A delightful twisting of biblical precedent took place last week in the Michael Pilch Studio Theatre at Balliol College, as Darcey Willing and Katie Peachey’s raucous adaptation of Immaculate lit up the black box theatre.
Immaculate is a modern comedic interpretation of the Immaculate Conception, placing the less-than-perfect Mia in the middle of an intense spiritual conflict between archangel Gabriel and fallen angel Lucifer, as well as the eccentricities of her ex-boyfriend Michael and best friend Rebecca. Written by Oliver Lansley and first performed at the 2005 Edinburgh Fringe Festival by Lansley’s theatre company Les Enfants Terribles, the play has had notable success since its first showing, including a national tour after its Edinburgh debut.
The premise of the play is certainly an interesting one, with the two supernatural beings arguing over the father of Mia’s child while the intolerable Gary Goodman also rocks up with a claim in the second act. What makes this performance enjoyable is the ability of the cast to bring the play to vivid life. In other hands the lack of a clearly-defined resolution to the opening problem would turn audiences away, but the journey from Mia’s discovery of her pregnancy to the birth is made worthwhile by the acting.
Laetitia Hosie is the star of the show as Mia, playing a great straight man to the delightful weirdness of the other characters but also providing a welcome depth to the mistress-turned-expectant mother. Isaac Wighton’s performance as Gabriel is literally pitch-perfect given the archangel’s uptight formal timbre. It would be easy for such a morally immutable character to fade into the background but Wighton’s dexterous physicality and solid chemistry with Leah Aspden’s Lucifer ensure the archangel remains memorable.
Aspden was the show’s secret weapon, displaying a remarkable skill for comedic timing and impressions. The random interjection of an overexcited Scottish doctor announcing the pregnancy could have played out very differently if the scene was not in Aspden’s clearly capable hands. Cosimo Asvisio and Millie Deere were scene-stealers as Michael and Rebecca, bringing warranted attention to the oddities of their characters without disrupting the rest of the narrative. Deere’s melodramatic portrayal of Rebecca when she first entered Mia’s house was particularly memorable, in part thanks to Asvisio’s recognisable change in body language when Rebecca revealed their secret relationship to Mia. Although Jo Rich was not on stage as much as the other cast members, his Gary Goodman portrayal was dynamic and relatable, perfectly encapsulating the kind of guy you wouldn’t want as the father of your child.
The staging of the play highlighted efficiency, using a red curtain to act as Mia’s front door and having the characters sit on the table to deliver the play’s frequent monologues. Its use of lighting was particularly effective, with the show opening in complete darkness as Wighton, Aspden, Asvisio, and Deere moved around the stage, their faces half-illuminated by small hand lights. There was a clear shift in tone whenever the spotlight came to focus on a particular character ahead of their soliloquy. The costumes were simplistic but suited the natures of each character. For most of the play, the oft-overdramatic Michael sported a red T-shirt which said “unreliable narrator” on it. The contrast between Gabriel and Lucifer was highlighted in Wighton wearing a beige ensemble mired in the corporate world while Aspden wore a more stylish black shirt and – crucially for the narrative – wings.
Willing and Peachey’s production of Immaculate was a very enjoyable way to spend an evening. The atmosphere in the theatre was palpable from the beginning as the cast frequently interacted with the audience, whether through Aspden’s Lucifer sitting on an attendee’s lap whilst wallowing in sadness or Rich’s Gary asking an audience member to check if Gabriel had really turned water into wine. The inversion of the Virgin Mary’s perfect image was an ideal vehicle for comedy, and the cast took Lansley’s original idea and ran with it to create something that I can only describe as devilishly funny.
Mia – Laetitia Hosie
Gabriel – Isaac Wighton
Lucifer – Leah Aspden
Michael – Cosimo Asvisio
Rebecca – Millie Deere
Gary Goodman – Jo Rich
Directors – Darcey Willing and Katie Peachey
Producer – Katie Peachey
Costume designer – Mia Beechey
Lighting designer – Orli Wilkins
Sound designer – Lucas Ipkendanz
Assistant producer – Grace Choi
Marketing – Mariam Eapen and Olivia Cho
Photography – Olivia Cho
Image description: Isaac Wighton (Gabriel) and Leah Aspden (Lucifer) in Immaculate.
Image credit: Olivia Cho