Quiet Faith is written, directed and performed by David Williams. Attending the opening night, hosted by Riverside Theatres in downtown Parramatta, was a welcoming experience on the corner of Church and Market Streets. The gathered audience consisted of regular church-going Christians alongside Mormons, self-confessed lapsed Catholics, former Orthodox believers and at least one punk proudly turned ‘anti-institutional- ist’!
Local boy, David Williams, shared how he grew up attending church at St Matthews Anglican, Merrylands West, much to the delight of some audience members after the show. He, and they loved the effect of the random nature of the places mentioned throughout the production as the characters, embodied by David and his gifted companion Rose Maher, told their tales of quiet and, on occasion, courageous faith which could be otherwise literally ‘tripped over’ in life.
Quiet faith is a collection of interviews and conversations about people, Christian faith to illustrate how ‘faith’ and ‘state’ are usually more integrated into people, life decisions, political motivations and work choices than this often publically made distinction normally suggests. Williams’s work is based around three key questions: ‘How would you describe your journey of faith?’, ‘How does faith manifest itself in your everyday life?’, and ‘What do you think is or should be the relationship between religion and politics?’. The play challenges the notions that ‘All Christians vote liberal’ through to ‘Can Christians vote Liberal?’ by means of peoples faith-soaked life stories being told. In line with Williams’s hunch that social ideals and ideas are closer to Jesus’ values, one of his main reasons for embarking on the project, we hear from a variety of Christians, many with progressive views ranging from abortion to homosexuality. They play key roles in life from the ordinary to the inspirational, so the audience finds itself hearing from card- carrying unionists, priests, social workers, artists, musicians, drunkards, doctors, divorcees, would-be councilors, and social activists, their take on life challenges the audience to their core at points. Many flavours of Christianity are represented and a conundrum is presented at one point as to whether one can ‘save’ a life by not ‘saving’ a life from a Christian perspective.
Audience members described the performance experience as informative, evocative and provocative all having experienced moments of both consonance and dissonance afterwards. A standout moment, literally, was when politically motivated prayer vigils were described as civil disobedience under the proviso, “we will break the law, to shine a light on a higher law that is being broken,” all under the banner of the hashtag #LoveMakesAWay.
The two performers Rose and David played multiple characters, each of whom remains nameless to the audience, but well known to David. The performers were authentic and compelling as they walked amidst, sat with, contemplated, cried with and ultimately shared their life stories with the audience. The strafe of stories came initially from a Christian couple, an avowed atheist, a bombastic baby boomer and a spiritually abused divorcee… all of whom were voiced by the two performers from different seats amongst the gathered audience. For 70 minutes, our performers sustained this game of ‘spiritual chairs’ without losing momentum or our interest for a moment.
It is refreshing to have a writer, director and performer take the Christian faith seriously. David and Rose were deferential to and respectful of the characters they played in propinquity. Our proximity to and empathy with the performers quickly gave the audience a sense of familiarity and sympathy. Both are clearly seasoned and serious performers, moving from spot to spot and story to story with fluidity and apparent effortlessness. Given the specific nature of the environment, one wonders how they will manage this intensity of staging and “choreography” across multiple venues in quick succession.
All the senses are put to good use during this performance with effective use of light and dark under a ‘halo-like’ main element and candles as markers signify how the story-tellers themselves are like Christ’s lights in the world. All-encompassing sound makes you part of the drama from the beginning alongside the unavoidably intimate setting of the modular furniture, intensely drawing the audience into the centre of the action. Wearing ‘plain-clothes’, performers are unified with the audience until you can taste and feel the stories being told first-hand, making the most of this Riverside creative art space.
At points, the audience resembled a church congregation, especially when, having stood together unexpectedly to sing Amazing Grace, we waited in awkward uncertainty for one of us to take the lead in sitting back on the ‘pews’ provided. The circular arrangement of hardwood, backless seats found older members ‘bum-shuffling’ during the performance and as the physical discomfort began to set in, the stories, likewise, escalated in their discomforting content and intensity, with deeply moving stories shared of spiritual responses by some characters to the life-changing events of desertion and suicide.
Thankfully, each soliloquy was given room for relief with intermittent sensory experiences interspersed with sounds of congregational chatter, choir song, church bells and real interviewee recordings or invitations to join in with the prayer, singing or church practice as people wished to. This technique broke up the interview style monologues to create reflective spaces within the performance itself, which is, otherwise, intense and intimate. The overall effect can seem as if the audience is the interviewer and so these spaces allow people to remember to, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ Williams himself does not confess to a Christian belief in God but does to having been changed through the process of exploring and seeking to understand the ‘quiet faith’ of those he interviewed and conversed with along the way. Quiet Faith is a deeply enriching and real experience.
The David Williams website lists the performance venues for the days ahead across Australia accessible at davidwilliams.net.au/portfolios/quiet-faith/.