We are no longer a Christian society – the Western world is fast transforming into something more complex, more agnostic. There’s a reluctance to believe, to have faith in a power that is outside of your comprehension. We live in a time when control comes easier; technology gives us more automation and greater analytical power to understand our needs and satisfy them. The idea of something existing outside of this tangibility is starting to be unacceptable. Like A Prayer takes us back to the nature of faith, the question that asks whether we can expand our appreciation past a technological sphere into something more spiritual.
As a piece of documentary theatre, it examines the nature of faith through interviews with a Franciscan monastery – Julia Bihl and Johannes Dullin challenge their own perceptions of faith through their interactions with six women who have cut themselves off from this fast-moving technological Renaissance.
Like A Prayer is a multimedia lecture and it’s clunky. But, it’s delivered with heart and emotion, honesty and humility. It asks questions of us and our relationship with God, whether we have one or not. The negativity felt towards religion is the very reason that people actively seek to change their lives and Bihl & Dullin want to understand the psychology of this more. It’s an interesting exercise that tackles the philosophy of belief.
Both interviewers-cum-performers approach the subject with an open mind. But there’s an argument that runs between them, the need as documentary maker to challenge the answers provided, both from each other and from the nuns that they video. The absoluteness of a direct answer breeds a sense of arrogant aggression that sometimes emanates from this production – it’s an interesting contrast to the tranquillity and peacefulness of prayer. Dullin applies a life philosophy to a compost heap – the mix of ingredients needed to keep the ecosystem in balance. But all of this loses its appropriation into the real world; this debate and argument takes us away from the most interesting concept within the production – the documentary itself.
There are a couple of exercises that also hold no meaning or place within the overall narrative of Like A Prayer. Bihl and Dullin undertake some kind of team away-day style drawing exercise, adding to a previously unseen piece of artwork and trying to draw meaning from the result. It’s not needed and like the previously described live interviews, it detracts from the video itself. Less is more when it comes to artistic devices in this show.
Like A Prayer is a thought-provoking piece of documentary film with intriguing commentary from Bihl and Dullin. But it’s not a piece of theatre as such. It has artistic quality, but it would benefit from a space that encourages live debate and discussion more so than a protected, fourth wall style of show.
Like A Prayer played C South as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 until 28 August 2017. For more information, please visit the website.