The Devil’s Passion

Retelling the Easter story from some unusual angle seems to be quite the in thing right now. In the film Risen (shortly in cinemas), we see Christ’s death and resurrection through the eyes of a hard-nosed Roman tribune; a sort of Dirty Harry in sandals. Meanwhile, on the stage, Justin Butcher’s one-act, one man play the Devil’s Passion tries something even more ambitious: telling the entire Gospel story from the point of view of satan himself.

Jesus has been arrested and is about to stand trial. From his bunker, the devil talks us through how we got here, full of glee at having finally defeated his nemesis (I’m very sure I wouldn’t be spoiling it if I told you that at the end the play, it’s the main protagonist who’s defeated). He takes on several characters as he recounts the story – Mary, Zacchaeus and Judas, to name a few.

So much of what is said could apply as much to current events as to biblical ones – right from the opening, in which a sharp-suited politician-like figure uses all the “war on terror” rhetoric imaginable to describe some ‘radical’ who’s a threat to our way of life, before we realise that the ‘radical’ in question is, in fact, Jesus.

The Devil’s Passion is sharp, thought-provoking and often funny, and Justin’s performance is spellbinding. Well worth seeing if you’re looking for an alternative take on the Passion this Easter.

The Devil’s Passion is currently on tour. For listings, see http://www.justinbutcher.co.uk/devilspassion/

George Luke is a journalist and broadcaster based in London


St James Church, Muswell Hill: Pilgrim’s Progress
 
For many years, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress was the second most widely-read book in the Western world – after the Bible. Written as a dream narrative by the imprisoned author, its allegorical message of trial, perseverance and redemption has inspired others in their own faith for generations.
 
This ambitious, £35,000 production was the work of Dei Artistry, St James Church’s creative arts department, led by the dynamic Brazilian-born curate Peterson Feital. With professional cast and crew of an impressive pedigree, Pilgrim’s Progress is the first in a series of exciting projects aiming to reach out and draw in the wider London community.
 
Reviving the 350-year-old tale for a modern family audience is no easy feat – but once we’re herded cattle-like into the church, given ‘passports’ and ‘burdens’ to hang round our necks, it’s an easy leap from rainy Muswell Hill into Dreamworld, the starting point of our theatrical journey.
 
Borrowing cleverly from Shakespeare’s own famous Dream, Claire Foster’s script sets the story in its context, the subconscious, using brilliantly executed music and physical theatre from a troupe of eerie ‘dream mechanicals’. The young, talented cast of six all share the spotlight, playing multiple roles and leaping deftly from humour to despair and back, always with touching sincerity.
 
With the actors and helpers promenading in character from the very beginning, even making it to our seats becomes a small pilgrimage (but the shy can rest assured that they won’t be dragged up on stage to perform).

St James’ glorious architecture is used to full effect, atmospherically lit with seating either side of a central catwalk. During the interval the church becomes the city of Vanity Fair, full of temptations and distractions, and the Celestial City is reached with a triumphant gospel chorus to send us out joyfully into the night.
 
It’s fair to say that if you were unfamiliar with the book, you might have struggled to follow all the details. But the spirit of the story shines through the performances, and the message sits beautifully in its surroundings. If you’re not a north Londoner, it’s definitely worth a little pilgrimage to future productions from this talented crew.

Lauren Bravo is a journalist and writer based in London


Brighton Theatre Royal: Great Expectations

The Gothic drama and anguish of Dickens' Great Expectations was delivered powerfully in Jo Stafford's well judged adaptation at Brighton's Theatre Royal last night (Tuesday 2 October 2012).

It was an eerie night's entertainment that left you with more questions than answers, as Dickens' grotesque characters wrestled their way through a period piece that challenged, chilled and chastened in equal measure.

How much are we products of our upbringing? How free are our choices to make a life for ourselves? Where can redemption be found? And can an amoral life be redeemed by the desire to do one good act, leave one good legacy?

There were stellar performances all through the cast, from the wailing and decaying wedding dress festooned Paula Wilcox as Miss Havisham (right), the scheming and lascivious James Vaughan as Worple, the plucky young Pip played by Taylor Jay-Davies, Chris Ellison's elusive Magwitch and the abrupt and deliberate lawyer Jaggers (Jack Ellis).

Great support work came from Steve North as Joe Gargery, Isabelle Joss as his shrill and abusive wife Mrs Joe, veteran character actor Brian Pettifer as Wemmick and Grace Rowe  as the damned and beautiful heart-breaker Estella.

The cobweb strewn set was masterfully done, veering from the dusty horror of Miss Havisham's to the warm cosiness of the forge, and the bustling anonymity of London. And I loved the creaking, whistling, spooky sound collage that provided an effective undertow for proceedings.

Whether you've read the book or not, go and see it – your expectations will be well rewarded.

BOOKING INFO

Great Expectations runs until Saturday (6 October), then around UK before West End.
For more information, visit www.greatexpectationstheplay.com.
Box Office 0844 871 7650 (bkg fee) www.atgtickets.com/brighton Ticket prices £10 - £29.50

Russ Bravo


02 London: Jesus Christ Superstar

Amongst a crowd of around 18,000, on a Friday night in East London, Andrew Lloyd Webber witnessed Jesus Christ Superstar as he "had imagined it 42 years ago". 

The new Superstar is awesome. It is real "rock opera” – cutting political comment, swathes of dancers, resounding solos and everything turned up to 11.

The lights go down and we are drawn in by mock news footage depicting a nation gripped by anti-capitalist riots. It is in this context of Occupy tents, kettling and political unrest that Jesus and the disciples begin Holy Week.

As a long-term fan of the musical, I was amazed by the freshness that clung to this version. This was Superstar for the Facebook generation, and without the tacky feel often associated with that.

Ben Forester as Jesus (pictured above) takes the breath away – with the audience in the palm of his hand in Gethsemane. Many a church leader knows something of the prayer 'I've tried for three years ... seems like 90'.

But what about the stars all around him? Mel C is exhilarating as Mary Magdalene – aware of the sexual connotations of her character, without becoming the clingy Jesus-plus-one. Could we start again please brings tears to the eyes.

Chris Moyles, the cult hero of said Facebook generation, received huge cheers for walking onto the stage. Herod is written for him and he completely owns it. Whether his voice and stage presence are enough for a late career in musical theatre is up for debate.

Speaking of which, I thought Judas was going to be the role Tim Minchin was born to play. Yes, he's brilliant: his voice is pure, his characterization beautiful, his stage presence unquestionable. In the final few moments, however, he threatens to undermine the entire production.

Superstar is a painful story, ending on Good Friday. Whilst there is no resurrection, there is a moment of hope in the finale that captures something of Jesus Christ, superstar. In this version, however, Tim Minchin carries out his own irony-laden attack on Christianity.

Personally, I find most of Minchin's views on religion insightful, helpful and funny. There is, however, a time and place. In this context his tambourine-bashing praise of the crucified Christ leaves a bitter taste in the mouth after a sumptuous feast of musical theatre. Save it for the comedy show, Tim.

This aside, it's the best version of Superstar ever, and the best musical this year. It does make you wonder what the Church could be doing to persuade more people there on Friday night that the story doesn't end there. It begins anew on Sunday morning. 

Tim Baker is an intern at the Methodist Recorder


Henry V at The Globe Theatre

Review by Tim Baker                       

“Cry God for Harry, England, and St George!” These immortal, rousing words are bellowed by the entire gathering of spectators at the Globe Theatre, at the moment when the latest performance of Henry V becomes truly invigorating theatre.

The Globe creates an atmosphere to rival any contemporary theatre-going experience. Surrounded by historic authenticity and packed benches that create a spectacular sight as they stretch out towards the evening sky, it feels powerfully genuine. Standing a few feet from the stage, as a groundling, it is impossible not to become personally involved in the drama.

Setting aside, and the setting itself is worth the visit, Henry V makes for engaging Shakespearian theatre. Henry V himself (Jaime Parker) brings the stage to life at the walls of Harfleur. Up to this point he is a little underwhelming in the political discussion, but once the irresistible words – “once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more” have left his lips, he has the audience at his mercy. This famous speech is captured so movingly that those gathered cannot help but join with this most famous of rallying cries – as we cry “God for Harry!”

Shakespeare’s script is focused on the faith of Henry and his men. This is the tale of a man who put his trust in God and refused to boast in his victories because he believed them to be divinely inspired. The image of God as “choosing sides” in warfare is, of course, highly problematic. If, however, we are able to see the Battle of Agincourt as Shakespeare would have us see it – namely, the victory of a small troop of hopelessly outnumbered, faithful men against arrogance and complacency – we can begin to see the message here.

This performance does not shy away from portraying the bloody, shocking nature of battle, yet it also captures something of an underlying message. Jamie Parker’s rendition of the “St Crispin’s Day” speech at Agincourt sends shivers down the spine. He looks to the inspiration of two martyred saints, Crispin and Crispinian, to uplift his troops, reflecting the faith behind the words they reportedly said under trial – “Thy threats do not terrify us, for Christ is our life, and death is our gain”. Often, this echo of Paul’s letter to the Philippians is a long way from our experience. For Henry’s bloodstained and battle-scarred men, it is shockingly close to home.

Parker is also brilliant the final scene with Olivia Ross’s Lady Katherine – proving he is capable of more than war-acting. Produced by Dominic Dromgoole, this production offers something for students of the script and those new to the play. Brendan O’Hea as Llewellyn and Sam Cox as Pistol add well-executed comedy, epitomised by the latter’s valiant attempt to eat a leek on stage!

4/5

Henry V, The Globe Theatre,
Running until 26th Aug
Tickets from £5 groundlings and £15 seating
3 hours 10 minutes, including interval
http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/theatre/on-stage/henry-v

Tim Baker is an intern with the Methodist Recorder


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