This enterprising theatre struck gold in 2011 with its revival of Emlyn Williams’s Accolade. They now turn to an earlier Williams work, unseen since its London premiere in 1945, that deals with an outbreak of religious fervour in a Welsh mountain village just after the Crimean war. It’s a weird piece, chiefly fascinating today for what it reveals about Williams himself.
He originally played the pivotal figure of Ambrose Ellis, a renegade Welshman who owns a circus in Birmingham and is drawn back to his birthplace by rumours of magic and music in the air. He discovers that a 13-year-old boy is believed to have miraculous powers, which include curing a cholera epidemic, and is thought to be the new Christ. Having arrived as an exploitative businessman, Ellis turns into a dedicated evangelist. Although Williams never explains the credulity of the villagers, the play is intriguing as an exploration of his own guilt: you feel that Williams, who as a successful actor and writer became part of the showbiz world, is expressing his own nostalgia for the Welsh landscape and language, and conceivably his search for a lost faith.
Will Maynard’s production shrewdly reinforces that feeling by suggesting a post-second world war setting. The performances are also impeccable. Jamie Wilkes as Ellis switches plausibly from sharp-suited showman to devoted disciple and is staunchly supported by David Whitworth as his watchful sidekick, by Rhiannon Neads as a widowed sceptic turned true believer and by Louise Breckon-Richards as the loving mother of the boy messiah. It’s not my favourite Williams piece but it fully deserves revival.
At Finborough theatre, London, until 21 December.