The Bottoms Up cast enjoy their applause – photos © Julian Swainson

We live in interesting times where real life is often stranger than any stage drama, but Norwich is a rich source of exciting new drama that invariably heads North to take a chance in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. There is, perhaps a new ‘Norwich School’ – this time though it is performing arts rather than painting.

A bit of slam poetry always helps the faithful.

One of the companies originating from the UEA Drama base is the Minotaur Theatre Company, the UEA house company since 1979 which produces many innovative works, as well as hosting a quite splendidly named annual awards ceremony.

Their latest show ‘Bottoms Up’  is a fast paced lively caper about a new Christian Church that needs to boost its followers to at least ten. Except that really this is a fraud from conman Wayne (Tom Rowntree) and his friend Kathie (Katie Suitor who have discovered that bona fide church leaders are exempt from tax once they get over ten followers.

To qualify they have to prove to an extremely zealous tax officer (Lauren Ecclestone) that they have at least ten followers, so with the help of a flyer printed entirely in Comic Sans they get their religious roadshow going. First chap to turn up is the batty bible wielding zealot Sebastian (Hattie Manton). Other confused believers gradually add to the chaos, with Kara Lawrie-Plews and Jack Oldcorn completing the six strong cast. Tom and Hattie are in their original characters throughout, but the others dive on and off stage at increasing rapid intervals to portray the ten converts necessary for tax status qualification.

The show is enormous fun and always just a small step away from chaos, but there are many delightful portrayals of people you really would not want to share a bus ride with, let alone a religious experience. At the height of the action there is an odd section where they all start playing different characters from their own, presumably indicating some sort of theological collective near-orgasm which I have to say left me briefly baffled about what we were supposed to make of it. But I would probably be just as baffled by a Church of England christening in full flow, so see it and judge for yourself.

The acting is delightful. Tom seems to be quite taken with actually being Jesus as he gets into his stride, with a rather fetching little bamboo cross being his minimalist approach to clerical garb. His sidekick Kathie gets increasingly psychotic and has prepared some lethal punch as all good religious conversion experiences apparently need the threat of imminent death to make them go nicely.

Director and Writer Alasdair Lindsey has created a high speed hoot of a comedy that will leave you breathless, if only from falling off your seat with laughter as one or two in this UEA Drama Studio audience seemed to risk. I would happily go and see this show again as it is richly textured with some great dialogue packed into a relatively short show, which also looked like enormous fun for those performing it. Just steer clear of the punchbowl!

Jacqueline (Kara Laurie-Plews) proclaims her faith

© Julian Swainson 2019

Bottoms Up will be performed at The Space on the Mile