Apparently, we’ve had it all wrong for thousands of years. Heaven and hell don’t exist. They were made up by Saint Augustin in his very own God-themed fanfic. This is one of the more amusing revelations to emerge from Todd & God, Richard Marsh’s new poetry play about being the chosen one in a postmodern world, or He Who Must Found Religion 2.0. There’s also the fact that – not a spoiler – God (Sarah Hirsch) is a woman. A woman on a mission. And that mission is, lord only knows why, to make Todd, aka Elvis Todd, her newest Word-spreader here on Earth.
For reasons unknown to both God and Todd, Todd must first convince Helen – his wife – that he’s to be the latest Messiah and the vessel by which God’s new religion will be spread amongst the masses. A task more difficult than first it might appear as Helen, a doctor, already worships in the church of science. But don’t worry, God has a plan and all will be well. In the end.
Marsh has a gift for characterisation, both in writing and in performance, and this combined with the propulsive poetry underpinning the show (both Marsh and Hirsch are former slam champions, London and UK respectively) means that the hour is over after what feels like 20 minutes. But that feeling of time passing quickly also hints at Todd & God’s biggest problem. For a play tackling a Big, Important Subject, it’s all a bit shallow. Don’t get me wrong, it is funny. It’s preposterous and entertaining, but Marsh’s obvious lust for laughs means he’s been too afraid to be vulnerable, to take any emotional risks. If the biggest gamble in the writing was to make God a woman, and you’d think so according to most of the pre-press, we’re not exactly talking about a provocation which requires much in the way of mental gymnastics. At least not from your average Fringe-goer.
Todd & God’s concluding ‘chase-your-dreams’ monologue is, unfortunately, trite to the nth degree and only reinforces the feeling that there’s something missing where the play’s heart should be. In certain of Marsh’s previous endeavours (namely Dirty Great Love Story), by staging the beautifully-observed life of a relationship between a single couple, for example, he delivered a heartwarming, life-affirming meditation on love in the 21st century. With Todd & God, on the other hand, in starting out with the aim of saying something universal about religion, he’s ended up with an amusing hour of theatre, but an ultimately unsatisfying comment on the contemporary nature of belief.
Todd & God is on at Pleasance Dome until 28th August 2017. Click here for more details.