• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as current film releases with spiritual significance, and a few bits and pieces on the Bible.

    Friday, October 03, 2008

    Jesus Christ Superstar
    Loughborough Parish Church

    Friday night was Jesus Christ, Superstar performed at my local church, All Saints with Holy Trinity in Loughborough. Parts of the building go back to the 14th century which certainly provided an interesting and atmospheric backdrop to the production. But director Shane Perry enhanced this by his innovative use of the building. The absence of risers potentially places those at the back at a real disadvantage, so Perry put his stage up relatively high and used the aisles repeatedly. This not only brought the action closer to the audience, but it also got us turning around - subtly reminding us of the venue. There was also some interesting use of the churches furnishings. Pilate used the bishop's chair as his judgement seat, and whilst the crowd celebrated Jesus's triumphal entry, Caiaphas admonished them from the pulpit.

    The role of the authority figures in Jesus Christ Superstar has always been something of a topic of controversy. Here both Pilate and Caiaphas were played well by the excellent Lee Costellow and James Robinson. Robinson's voice was astonishing given his apparent youth and Costellow's performance neatly balanced the power of Rome and a frightened man out of his depth. Whilst this may not be the Pilate of history it was certainly great drama. But it was perhaps the costumes that spoke volumes of the way the power dynamic was portrayed. The priests wore towering Pasolini-esque headpieces; the Romans only fabric armour.

    However, the costumers were also responsible for the weakest aspect of the production - Jesus's wig. It says a lot about the quality of the production that the biggest fault I could find was something as trivial as a hairpiece, indeed my friend didn't even notice that it was a wig. But nevertheless, whilst Lyndon Perry was a good enough age to play Jesus, he was too old to get away with that particular wig - to my mind at least.

    That said, Perry's overall performance as Jesus was strong. He was likeable enough, but not to an extent which neutralises Judas's objections. In contrast to the gospels, Jesus Christ, Superstar requires its leading man to ensure he is not too heroic. Perry got the balance just right, absolving Judas to a certain extent, and giving the piece a palpable sense of tension. The Judas-Jesus dynamic is made even more interesting by the fact that the men playing these roles are the director and his brother. There's just a little extra edge to their disagreements.

    Of course, Superstar rests heavily on the music, and the band were excellent. They opted to stay faithful to the piece's seventies roots, replete with a wah-wah pedal and early sounding keyboards. But there was also some interesting use of the church organ (or at least a passable imitation - I was sat behind the speakers so it was hard to tell). Again this worked to involve the location in the production, invoking the story of Jesus's followers which it not only narrates, but also continues.

    Given the difficulty of the piece for vocalists, it would be unrealistic to expect an amateur production such as this to be flawless. Yet the overall quality of the singing was very good. Perhaps the best performance was Mary Magdalene who not only sung well, but was the pick of a strong cast. Indeed it was Mary's performance that carried the show's final moment - a brief, and wordless, resurrection scene. The original production omits this part of the story opting instead to resurrect Jesus during the curtain call. Such an alteration ran the risk of being kitsch or trite, but focussing primarily on the reaction of Mary and the other women (rather than on, say, the stone being rolled away) put the emphasis on the human side of things, and captured the strange, but joyful emotions of the first Easter.

    All in all, then, this fine production made the most of the location and was entertaining and thought provoking in equal measure.

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