Thursday 23 November 2017

Theatre: Miraculously taking a step back in time

Jesus Christ Superstar, Bord Gais Energy Theatre

Jesus Christ Superstar
Jesus Christ Superstar

Katy Hayes

Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar still feels prescient. In the early 1970s, its cutting edge was the risk of blasphemy. Now, its edginess lies in its comment on the cult of celebrity worship; and it is impossible to watch the 39 lashes scene without thinking of the plight of imprisoned Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi, too ill after his first dose of lashes to sustain a second.

Glenn Carter as Christ starts out low key, working the gentle end of the Jesus spectrum. But he steadily builds his presence and easily carries the difficult emotional content of the second half, including the lashes scene and nailing to the cross. The violence isn't particularly aggressive, but is effectively brutalising, boosted by clever acoustics.

Tim Rogers' Judas is overly conflicted, and this makes him appear dramatically a little uncertain. Tom Gilling performs Herod's Song adorned with nipple tassels and blue eye shadow, and delivers a total crowd pleaser in a toga party.

The design is dominated by a giant crown of thorns, which hovers ominously over the action. Hippy Jesus followers give good buzz, reminding us of the show's 70s origins; the darker, kinkier numbers prove again that badness is always good on stage. The transformation of the crowd after the arrest of Jesus into a microphone-wielding press pack is a highlight.

But the stage belongs to Rachel Adedeji as Mary Magdalene, who has the best number I Don't Know How to Love Him. She is spellbinding, carefully managing to pull off complete sincerity with sung emotions. Adedeji is a product of the X Factor, a fine example of the entertainment industry eating its own tail.

Forty years after its first production, its music and its sentiment completely out of fashion, Jesus Christ Superstar remains a stirring evening. It's nothing short of a miracle.

Irish Independent

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