Antony Michaels reviews BOS Musical Theatre Group’s production of the Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Jesus Christ Superstar.
Rice and Lloyd Webbers’ first smash hit is BOS Musical Group’s timely production, just before Holy Week. Directed by Stuart Bull, Christ’s last week before the events of Easter is told from the perspective of Judas, the disciple who feels that things are getting out of hand.
The stark, dramatic black and white set allows characters and events to take centre stage, while different levels facilitate intelligent staging, bringing out the power play between characters, such as the Jewish priests, glowering above the action of people on the ground level.
The lighting design of Stuart Bull, Alan Aldous and Lesley Smith contributes to mood and characterisation beautifully, for example washing the saturnine Caiaphas and his priests in blood red light, contrasting them with the pristine white Jesus who has been dragged before them. The scene where Christ is beset by lepers is highlighted by effective lighting effects, as is the section following Christ’s arrest, which sees Judas backed by a suitably dramatic lighting motif of blood-coloured crowns of thorns, highlighting his betrayal.
Costumes by the Violet Truelove Wardrobe are superb, from the homespun of the disciples and the crowd to the majestic purple of Pilate, while Caiaphas and priests brood magnificently in full length black robes. Deliberately anachronistic touches work well: the hedonism of Herod’s court is reflected in silver and white, with dancing flappers and white tie and tails. This reaches its apogee when Judas returns as a modern hipster, the polar opposite of the son of God he has returned to mock.
Performances sit well with this production’s values. While the main players act, be sure to notice the crowd – everyone is acting and reacting, telling their own story as well as the main one; it is refreshing to see such ensemble playing in an amateur musical, while transitions between scenes are managed slickly.
Steve Dickons’s Jesus treads the line between natural authority, for example in the temple, and bewilderment at his circumstances and the demands made of him, easily moving the audience in numbers such as Gethsemane and the whipping – you’ll wince. The crucifixion scene will remain with you, as he is lashed to the cross and then raised above, right in front of the audience – the most powerful sight on Blackfriars’ stage for some time.
A counterpoint to this suffering is Sharon Sinnott’s Mary Magdelene. Her comforting presence amidst the turmoil is communicated well, as is her confusion and yearning in “I don’t know how to love him”.
Jon Molson’s harrassed Pilate is solid and believable, as is Matt Barnes’ Peter, while Declan Bryan’s Caiaphas is the true eminence grise behind the arrest and trial.
But this is Judas’s show. His angst, nicely communicated by Rob Callaby, and his conflict with Jesus drive the action – as you should, you can identify with this character manipulated into the role of villain.
As the world gears up for Easter, see this production to appreciate both what the religious fuss is about, and what musical theatre can be.
Jesus Christ Superstar runs nightly at Blackfriars Arts Centre at 7.30pm until Friday, with an additional matinee performance on Saturday at 1.30pm, followed by Saturday’s evening performance at 6.30pm.