I’ve seen a lot of Fringe and alternative theatre in my time, but rarely have I seen a piece that takes on the topic of faith – unless it’s ironic, or highly critical. For whatever reason, authentic belief is somewhat taboo in the artistic community. But it’s exactly this topic that Thom Jordan, the son of a minister from outback Australia, has chosen to probe in his solo performance piece.
The Fringe guide blurb for this show suggests that there is some blurring of reality in the show: that Jordan’s life story has been embellished with elements of someone else’s. It’s unclear to what extent he’s speaking from his personal experiences as a newbie in the big city of Sydney, a trainee evangelical preacher, and a survivor of a major illness – and which parts are artistic licence. As a result, the piece occupies a grey area between autobiography and imagination.
The performance is intense to the point of too-earnest; the fervour of Jordan’s biblical readings and sermon-giving is – at least for me, an avowed atheist – actually quite confronting. I was unsure whether he was using the techniques of evangelical preaching for dramatic effect or critique. If so, I was ready for more deconstruction of the ways the super-churches with thousands of followers attract and retain their congregations, and the rhetorical devices used to persuade audiences.
Jordan’s storytelling is highly engaging, winning our favour from the start by being highly personable and chatty. As a narrative, however, the flow from one life change to another, and the impact of each episode, could be better signposted: I was sometimes left wondering what happened after each event that precipitated the next. Additionally, although Jordan is a very likeable character, some of the sympathy he asks of us – for instance, in his disappointment at not becoming the youngest person to ever preach at his church – is perhaps pushing our empathy a little.
Throughout the show, Jordan tells us that we’re all looking for the same thing: truth, faith, a sense of direction. The piece is a reasonable exploration of these topics, and they’re a big ask for an hour-long fringe show, but I was left wondering where Jordan himself stands on these issues; the show ends a little abruptly and without much sense of closure.
This is already a good show, but I think some of the ideas could be explored a little more. As a window into the megachurch movement, it could give audiences an endlessly fascinating look into a closed but compelling community. Jordan clearly has ambitions beyond Brighton for his work, so I look forward to seeing it evolve.