Image: Finborough Theatre
"God doesn't talk to girls. But He listens.
I pray for God to tell Mr. Shelby to find me a husband who's sweet and kind and not too old."
Gracie was born into a polygamous religious community, and brought across the US border to Canada at the age of eight, when her mother became the eighteenth wife of an elder there.
A lively and irrepressible child, her world is full of faith and family, but by the time she is fifteen, and at marriageable age, she feels increasing pressure to conform … but will she ever dare to take the leap and step into the outside world?
A gripping and tender story about growing up in a religious cult by Joan MacLeod, winner of Canada's most prestigious literary award, the Governor General's Award.
This play is a work of fiction, inspired by Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) communities in Canada and the U.S..
Gracie, and all other characters and the events mentioned in the play, are works of fiction as well.
Reading the background and synopsis, you may be tempted to think that this is a play that scrutinises the activities of a religious sect and their strange, near incomprehensible notions about marriage.
In fact, the real focus of this story is not so much concerned with polygamy or even religion, but with a young woman's brave revolt against those who would force her to do something against her will.
In that sense, Gracie has much wider moral and social implications than forced marriages, or unacceptable customs practiced by religious groups, even if the detail of this compelling and hauntingly emotive story contains many other issues bubbling under the surface.
When we first meet her, Gracie is an eight year-old.
That means, of course, Carla Langley has to persuade us that she is a child, rather than the adult she actually is.
Moreover, Ms Langley has to visibly and emotionally 'grow up' during the 90 minutes' traffic of her story.
She ably convinces us on both counts in spades in a wholly compelling performance - you could have heard a pin-drop from the enthralled audience right the way through.
When we first meet her at the start of the play Gracie is an innocent - filled with a simple wonder for the world and with a strong faith in God.
She carries around macaroni letters which spell-out her name and symbolise childhood.
Later, she has to keep them secretly on a ledge outside her bedroom window where the rain eventually soaks and flushes them away, marking the fading of her innocence.
Odd though it may sound, a key indicator of her age is the way she blows her nose.
It's the very first action we see her performing, even before she speaks a single line, and is a neat and potent device that changes as Gracie gets older.
But Carla Langley also subtly 'grows-up' in terms of her character and personality, effortlessly making the transition from meek and compliant child to a young woman on the brink of adulthood and taking on the responsibilities of caring for her siblings.
A simple triangular, neutrally-painted dais allows the action to take place at different levels, and it also illuminates the final scenes providing, for example, the flickering of a tv set in a motel room via strip lights attached to its edges.
But that's all the set we get - and, thanks to Ms Langley's wonderfully believable characterisation, it's all we need.
Recognition, though, also has to be given for Joan MacLeod's well-structured and finely-honed script and compelling narrative which finds room for subtle touches of humour, some poetic and evocative moments, and a plot line that never flags.
Ms Langley's exemplary performance is ably bolstered by nuanced and painstaking direction from Gemma Aked-Priestley, ably assisted by Nicky Griffiths who provides highly effective movement that allows space for Gracie to speed around on her new bike and even take a swim.
With a mesmerising, flawless solo performance at its captivating heart, Gracie is spellbinding and moving storytelling of the very first order.
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ActDrop listing for Finborough Theatre
Our show listing for Gracie
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