Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸🍸
As the electrifying overture comes to a close, performers from the casts of four different incarnations of this Olivier and Evening-Standard Award-Winning revival of Tim Rice‘s and Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s Jesus Christ Superstar, enter the playing space. They gaze out at the reduced capacity audience of 390 people and simultaneously, they remove their face masks. In response, the audience unapologetically bursts into enthusiastic applause. This cathartic moment, is not only bold and emotional, a symbolic assurance of the return of live theatre, but it fits perfectly into the stylistic choices of this revival. Meaning, much of the unique, fervid nature of the original Open Air production remains. In-fact it is difficult to call this staging, as advertised, a concert version as it is never stagnant and is so complexly thought-through, designed, directed and performed.
As in the previous manifestations, the work still employs a beautifully Brechtian-esque, representative quality, full of nuances and intricacies for the audience to discover for themselves. This aforementioned quality, starts in the moment of unmasking, a visual indicator of this company of actors being given permission to actually perform a musical outdoors and from there it just keeps going. A few of these ‘representative’ directorial and design moments, that we were particularly mesmerised by include: Pontius Pilate (David Thaxton)’s consistent use of a corded mic, doubly demonstrable of his role as a Roman Official, through which he is tied to Rome and the Emperor with no real power of his own and also of Jesus (Declan Bennett)’s condemnation of this lack of power, insisting that the decisions have already been made, making Pilate more of a mouthpiece than an official. Pilate also, at points, wields a mic stand with a marble likeness of the Emperor Augustus on it, whilst the Roman guard wear tabards displaying the same printed likeness. Similarly, Mary (Anoushka Lucas), is one of the few characters to be dressed in white, despite the fact that she is slandered by Judas (Tyrone Huntley), as a sinful women, whilst there are further suggestions of her promiscuity throughout. The costuming, therefore suggests a deeper purity, Mary often being remembered in the gospels as one of the few apostles to truly understand Jesus’ teachings, here she is a stark comparison to Judas’ extreme hero-complex that is to an extent, both ignorant of self-care and selfish. Both characters, whether positively or negatively, are demonstrably driven by a love of Jesus, each engendering a tenderness towards the character in their respective renditions of the iconic I Don’t Know How To Love Him. Furthermore, the production still includes Judas’ iconic silver (blood stained) hands (featuring on much of the prior marketing material). Once Judas sells-out Jesus to Caiaphas (Ivan De Freitas) and Annas (Nathan Amzi), promising to give them a location they can find Jesus alone. He is paid in silver pieces, though he protests against taking the blood money he is coerced, dipping his hands into the silver chest, silver stains them, this is both representative of the transaction of silver. and the blood now on his hands, the burden of which ultimately causes his down fall. A blue flare is also set off at the beginning of Simon Zealotes demonstrable of the crowds becoming out of hand, as Judas suggests in his reasoning for turning Jesus in.
There is also a fantastic nod to Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, during the song of the same name, as they break bread and drink wine, the apostles adorn robes of different colours capturing the visual idiosyncrasy of Da Vinci’s masterpiece. Similarly during The Temple, the company, become representative of the structure itself, forming a rectangle that fills the stage, the actors uniformly signifying the temple’s colonnade of columns. Following this, an onslaught of lepers plead with Jesus to heal them, (in order to avoid a close proximity of the actors to each-other, as they would usually converge on him), a creative decision sees them instead, fill the playing space, leaving Jesus stuck on a narrow rostra upstage, he is still therefore, visually trapped. Furthermore, the rock-opera, which is sung through, has a dazzlingly, energetic score filled with soul, rock and gospel sound influences, therefore, this musical semblance is also woven into the visual delivery, not only is most of the band visible throughout, but the piece employs a sprinkling of actor-musicianship, with the company using guitars and tambourines, corded mics and mic stands, a pair of claves are even used to create the sound of the 40 lashings received by Jesus at Pilate’s request. At the climax of Judas’ Death, Judas pulls the cord out of the mic to symbolise his own demise, whilst Jesus is shown to be crucified on his own mic stand, a death the character begrudgingly chooses for himself, the stand becoming a signal for his own agency here. Whilst in Superstar, the company wear choir-style gowns as a nod to the song’s gospel sound. There is only one true and exceedingly poignant moment of active realism and this comes during the Trial Before Pilate. Jesus is shown to be covered in realistic-looking blood, a jarring visualisation of the suffering he endured at the hands of the Romans before his ascendancy.
Therefore, the dexterity of these choices can only be attributed to the adeptness and collaborative excellence of the creative team. Timothy Sheader‘s direction ensures the piece is pacey, yet well-balanced, dramatic and clean, whilst Nick Lidster‘s sound is vibrant and all-encompassing, almost creating a stadium feel to it, as it reverberates around the venue, lending itself perfectly to the rock aspects of the score. The re-purposing of Soutra Gilmour‘s set for Evita is inspired, allowing for more free movement of the cast and showcasing Drew McOnie‘s ingenious choreography perfectly. McOnie‘s work remains stylised and eye-catching, his ability to work in a plethora of motifs is unparalleled. Though the bronze coloured crucifix that originally functioned as a platform across the stage is missing, Lee Curran‘s stunning lighting ensures the bronze cross endures, emblazoning it in lights across the middle of the stage during John Nineteen: Forty-One. As aforementioned Tom Scutt‘s design (set and costume) is artistic and meaningful, a particular moment of wonder was the gold cloth brought out across the stage upon Herod (Shaq Taylor)’s entrance. Not only was it dazzling and matched the gold detailing in Herod’s costuming, it suggested the kingly pomp of the man in trying to show off in front of another alleged ‘king’, (perhaps referencing King Henry VIII in his show of power at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, when meeting with King Francis I of France in 1520).
With 9 performances being undertaken in a week, the roles of Jesus, Judas and Mary have been double-cast, giving audiences the opportunity to see any combination of actors as they alternate performances. In this performance, as mentioned above, Mary was performed by Anoushka Lucas, Judas by Tyrone Huntley and Jesus by Declan Bennett. Anoushka Lucas is sensational, her tonality and lucidity truly shine here, a warming portrayal, that beguiles and affects throughout. Whilst, Declan Bennett‘s physicality is paramount, alongside his truly beautiful falsetto he candidly embodies the hesitancy and contemplative nature of the character. And Tyrone Huntley is the powerhouse he has always been, delivering an astonishingly haunted and soulful Judas, his delivery exploding in full colour as the character utterly breaks down. Alongside them, Nathan Amzi and Ivan De Freitas are a charismatic duo and vocally consummate as Annas and Caiaphas, whilst Cedric Neal is similarly as entrancing and endearing as Simon. Shaq Taylor‘s delivery of Herod is wonderfully self-assured, vehement and thoroughly entertaining, alongside an agile delivery of Pilate by David Thaxton, who bolsters phenomenal vocal abilities and excellent stage presence. Finally, Genesis Lynea‘s physicality is incredibly fluid and strong, she hits every accent of McOnie‘s complex choreography with ease and is joined by an ensemble of artists: Daniel Bailey, Dale Evans, Rosie Fletcher, Josh Hawkins, Stevie Hutchinson, Phil King (Peter), Billy Nevers, Rosa O’Reilly, Charlotte Riby, Tinovimbanashe Sibanda, Barnaby Thompson, Elliotte Williams-N’Dure and Tara Young, who are all truly gifted, with conviction and heart they emotively carry the show.
To conclude, this production is much more than a concert staging, it includes much of the intent of it’s earlier iterations, with the design and directorial choices becoming paragon’s of artistic expression. Please do go and support this production, it is definitely worth it, tickets can be purchased here, whilst information about the recently announced Superstar-On-Screen can be found here.
The Creative Team: Will Burton CDG and David Grindrod CDG (casting), Ed Bussey (associate musical director), Lee Curran (lighting design), Tom Deering (musical supervisor), Barbara Houseman (associate director, voice and text), Drew McOnie (choreography), Nick Lidster for Autograph (sound design), Tom Scutt (set design) after the set design for EVITA by Soutra Gilmour, Tom Scutt (costume design), Timothy Sheader (director), Kate Waters (fight director) and Denzel Westley-Sanderson (co-director).
The Cast: Ricardo Afonso – Judas, Nathan Amzi – Annas (cover Judas), Daniel Bailey – Ensemble (cover Herod), Declan Bennett – Jesus, Dale Evans – Ensemble (cover Caiaphas), Rosie Fletcher – Ensemble (cover Mary), Ivan De Freitas – Caiaphas, Josh Hawkins – Ensemble (cover Jesus, Pilate, Peter), Tyrone Huntley – Judas, Stevie Hutchinson – Ensemble (cover Annas), Phil King – Peter, Anoushka Lucas – Mary, Genesis Lynea – Soul Singer/Mob Leader, Maimuna Memon – Mary, Cedric Neal – Simon, Billy Nevers – Ensemble (cover Simon), Pepe Nufrio – Jesus, Rosa O’Reilly – Soul Singer, Charlotte Riby – Ensemble (cover Soul Singers), Tinovimbanashe Sibanda – Ensemble | Dance Captain, Shaq Taylor – Herod, David Thaxton – Pilate, Barnaby Thompson – Ensemble (cover Priests), Elliotte Williams-N’Dure – Soul Singer, Tara Young – Ensemble
The Band: Oroh Angiama – Bass Guitar, John Barclay – Trumpet, Alan Berlyn – Trumpet | Keyboard, Neil Brock – Guitar, Ed Bussey – Associate Musical Director, Tom Deering – Musical Director | Piano, Anna Douglass – French Horn, Sean Green – Keyboard | Hammond Organ, Pete Lewinson – Drums, Howard McGill – Tenor Saxophone | Flute | Clarinet, Bryan Smith – Guitar, Sarah Williams – Trombone | Tuba