Martyr at the Unicorn Theatre
Benjamin has found God. A usual self-exploratory process that most teenagers undergo, which conjures up images of volunteering in soup kitchens or singing in a local church choir. Not for Marius von Mayenburg’s protagonist. For him, God is a medium through which to vent his anger and religion – an avenue to frustrate those around him.
When Benjamin (Daniel O’Keefe) flatly refuses to participate in swimming classes, spouting chants of “the shameless mingling of the sexes”, his mother and teacher quickly realise that his religious beliefs may be more than just a little concerning. The school’s authorities, on the other hand, fail to see his zealotry burgeoning within and accommodate his fanaticism. Girls should forgo their bikinis for more appropriate swimwear. His science teacher should lecture on the realms of Creation: after all, no one has explained who or what created the “big bang”, upon which scientific theory rests.
Martyr questions (rather loudly) how far one should go when tolerating others’ beliefs. When do they start to pose a problem? How accommodating should people be? By having Benjamin rant from the Christian Bible, German playwright Mayenburg shows us that all religions are capable of alarming distortion, and avoids calling out certain subgroups in the swarm of current fundamentalism. Finally reeled in by Benjamin (for presumably being Jewish), his science teacher (played by Natalie Radmall-Quarke) pursues a dangerous path of playing Benjamin at his own game, which unavoidably heads into disaster.
O’Keefe’s performance as the troubled teenager is compelling and powerful and is offset nicely with Farshid Rokey’s meek and comedic performance as his only friend. Radmall-Quarke also gives a measured performance with the right injection of charm and restraint, well supported by Brian Lonsdale as the PE teacher.
Overall, Ramin Gray’s production balances Maja Zade’s tender translation of the original play with more cogent confrontations about religion and society. It’s a darkly humorous piece of writing with a hard-hitting message: one that resonates across continents and faiths.
Martyr is on at the Unicorn Theatre from 15th September until 10th October 2015, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for Martyr here: