Wretch Like Me (Or How I Was Saved From Being Saved)

Sat 2nd – Sat 16th August 2014

reviews

Alex Woolley

at 10:02 on 8th Aug 2014

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For me comedy is best when it is used as a means of broaching serious topics. Given such a mindset, it is little surprise that I turned out to adore Wretch Like Me (or How I was Saved from Being Saved): David Templeton’s one-man show about his experiences of South Californian evangelical Christianity. If you prefer jokes about silly walks or vacuum cleaners, look elsewhere.

Over the course of slightly more than an hour, Templeton takes the audience through the story of his teenage and early adult years, focusing on how his commitment to a particularly unthinking type of Christianity affected his sense of self-worth. It all began with Mrs Hunt at primary (“elementary”) school, who capitalised on Templeton’s loneliness, and it all ended with a dramatic departure from Happy Chapel and fall-out with the acid-tripping Revd. Dude.

Templeton’s selectiveness is thankfully not so acute as for him to leave out certain stories that are truly delightful, if a tad tangential, such as that of his ex-girlfriend, who considered herself a martyr for wetting her trousers (“pants”). All the same, a slightly keener approach to editing out material might have made for a show that felt more honed.

Quibbles about editing are, however, of relatively little importance. Wretch Like Me forcefully conveys what can happen when religion takes too firm a grip on an impressionable young mind, and this – the journalistic aspect of the show – is very impressive. Joy, Templeton long believed, cannot be found outside Jesus; nearly killing yourself through fasting brings you to the face of God; masturbation is no sin so long as you do not think of sex while you do it; praying for help whether to choose chips (“fries”) or onion rings is an acceptable thing to do in the queue in a fast food restaurant.

All this nonsense Templeton was devoutly subject to during his youth – the flower of life. It must take considerable courage to admit publicly to having believed such rubbish, and it can only be a good thing for the world that such real-life stories are publicised.

A good standard of acting, which makes it easy to distinguish between the various characters Templeton plays during the show. This, combined with material that is simultaneously comic and deeply serious, goes to make Wretch Like Me a definite must-see at this year’s Fringe – if you want to be informed, as well as entertained. Templeton can also sing Amazing Grace backwards.

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Lucy Diver

at 10:21 on 8th Aug 2014

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Wretch Like me is a one-man show about religion. I feared for the worst but I was very pleasantly surprised: the show manages to be both thoughtful and funny, critiquing organised religion while eschewing angry ranting.

The set and costume are simple, just a few chairs and a suit jacket, and the only real extras are a few snippets of recorded songs and sound. Bruce Springsteen makes a memorable appearance in this form, but on the whole, it’s David Templeton’s charisma that sustains the audience. His struggle with self-loathing and religion makes for a moderately compelling hour.

Over the course of this struggle, a young David recounts his encounters with Mrs Hunt / Jesus Lady, Righteous Rick, Cindy who sends an air kiss to the sky everytime she mentions Jesus, and an ex-surfer druggie who discovered Christianity in a tent in Hawai called Reverend Dude. Templeton switches skillfully between these characters, as well as Young David and current real life David. More perhaps, could be done to create the physicality of each character distinct, but the voices are perfectly competent.

The title ‘Wretch Like Me’ comes from Amazing Grace, and the theme of wretchedness dogs the story. David has an acute case of terrible self esteem, which is reinforced by religion telling him that the only important thing in him is is God, that ‘without Jesus you’re just junk’. The characterisation of organised religion is hilarious at times: praying in Burger King, a communion with a PB&J sandwhich and interpretations of scripture that condemn mainstream radio.

However, what I engaged with the most, and what I feel will attract more attention in this country (Templeton is American) is the struggle with self-hatred. Templeton crucifies himself: lying on the floor in a cross position, singing I hate myself to the tune of Amazing Grace. This is sure to resonate with anyone who suffered from teenage angst.

There’s also puppets, a fantastic critique of ‘speaking in tongues’, three baptisms, fasting, a caring mum, a modern day martyrdom and a lesson in finding the perfect hedge to hide from school bullies. Though the premise of a one-man show about religion might promise to be restrictive to a particular audience, I don’t think that’s the case. This is a show for anyone who’s ever hated themselves, for anyone who was unpopular in school, for anyone who’s flirted with religion, or flirted with atheism. In other words, it's a show for everyone.

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