Review: Martyr at the Unicorn Theatre

© Stephen Cummiskey

The Unicorn Theatre and the Actors Touring Company are causing their audiences to think deeply this autumn with Martyr, an extraordinary study in fanaticism.

Benjamin [Daniel O’Keefe] is causing a stir in school with increasingly startling stunts inspired by his new found faith and the offence he finds in his daily life in the classroom and at home. While his mother [Flaminia Cinque] and most of his teachers scrabble to understand his behavior, one person – Miss White [Natalie Radmall-Quirke], Benjamin’s biology teacher – makes it her mission to meet his fanaticism head on. The ideological battle that ensues lays waste to relationships and careers and begs the audience to ask searching questions about radicalisation and how it is addressed.

Martyr’s cast all offer solid performances and each ensures the subject matter is what lingers rather than a single, show stealing, performance. In fact, the issues that are dealt with in the piece are at once its blessing and its curse. We’re exposed to really weighty topics: Religious radicalization, militant atheism, anti-Semitism, sexism, homophobia and sexual confusion all feature. However, given the piece only runs for 90 minutes only the first two get any real in-depth treatment. There’s more to explore here and we left feeling that this cast could lead us expertly through more of the issues, if only they’d been given the time.

There is plenty of humour here too, however there is no doubt that this a production designed to ask searching questions. Which is no surprise, given the venue. The Unicorn Theatre styles itself as the leading professional theatre for young audiences and this production will certainly serve to get young people thinking. But, the true test of anything made for younger audiences is whether or not it has enough to offer older people too. Martyr does. In spades. Simply put, this is a production that everyone of any age will benefit from seeing.

GT Gives Martyr – 4/5

Martyr is playing at the Unicorn Theatre, London Bridge until 10 October. Tickets from £8.

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