[img]http://hits.guardian.co.uk/b/ss/guardiangu-feeds/1/H.20.3/88134?ns=guardian&pageName=The+Making+of+Moo+%7C+Theatre+review%3AArticle%3A1306450&ch=Stage&c3=Guardian&c4=Theatre%2CStage%2CCulture+section&c6=Michael+Billington&c7=09-Nov-17&c8=1306450&c9=Article&c10=Review&c11=Stage&c13=&c25=&c30=content&h2=GU%2FStage%2FTheatre[/img]Orange Tree, Richmond
Nigel Dennis's satire on religion was considered deeply shocking in the late 1950s – even my own inept student production raised a ruckus. Watching Sam Walters's superior revival, I am struck not only by Dennis's swift wit and theatrical invention, but also by his tendency to score easy victories. He attacks religion at its weakest rather than its strongest points.
Dennis offers us a potted guide to the religious process. In the first – and funniest – act we see a colonial engineer, having unwittingly destroyed a river god by building a new dam, creating the religion of Moo. By the second act, Moo has turned into a fanatical cult involving blood sacrifice and the ritual slaughter of non-believers. With time, the Moovian faith acquires a tranquillised respectability, although, suggests Dennis, there will always be fundamentalist renegades who want to return to its bloody origins.
Dennis scores several hits: the relationship between colonialism and Christianity, for instance, and the tendency of organised religion to bypass rational thought. But he never enters imaginatively into what he is attacking, and misses a lot out: the radicalism that led to activist movements such as the "liberation theology" of Latin America, the moral subversiveness of "love thine enemy", and the capacity of faith to inspire great art.
Yet the play at least raises issues our secular theatre prefers to ignore. And it is vigorously performed by Philip York, Amanda Royle and Duncan Wisbey as the proponents of the Moovian faith, and by Ben Onwukwe as their servant reluctantly transformed into a papal figure, proclaiming: "I am the light above the zebra." Dennis's play still makes me laugh, and leaves me regretting that religion is largely taboo in modern drama.
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Guardian: The Making of Moo | Theatre review
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