REVIEW: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR @ THEATRE ROYAL PLYMOUTH
🎭 Jesus Christ Superstar
📍 The Lyric, Theatre Royal Plymouth, Royal Parade, Plymouth, Devon, PL1 2TR
🗓 Monday 6th November 2023
ENERGETIC AND VISUALLY SPECTACULAR
Visually spectacular, Director Timothy Sheader’s punchy, energetic, occasionally frantic revival of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock opera certainly hit the spot with the audience last night.
Designer Tom Scutt’s immense, industrial set is strewn with crucifixes and has a sense of unforgiving solidity around which music and swirling choreography ebbs and flows. The costumes of Jesus and his followers are loose and timeless adding to the feeling of transience and rebellion against an unmoving regime. The rock opera theme is underlined by using microphones, equipment boxes and huge speakers integrated into both the set and the narrative. The musicians playing at various heights on the set throughout adds to this feel. The downside of this heavily structured approach is that many of the movements are forced to become repetitive.
For me the first act is the weaker of the two. Shem Omari James as Judas put his heart and soul into the acting and his distress and confusion were evident. His voice, however, is not strong enough for such a pivotal role and the diction in Heaven on their Minds is unclear. Jesus, played brilliantly by Ian McIntosh, and his follower’s whirl around the set at frenetic speed. Whilst Jesus dispenses miracles and manhandles his guitar, the followers alternate between inciting uprisings and gospel style worship. I am slightly bemused by the bizarre addition of a sexy backing group to Christ’s entourage.
Having said all that, the rushing and strident singing allows Mary Magdalen to cool and sooth, singing Everything’s Alright to a harried Jesus in need of some space. Hannah Richardson plays Mary beautifully; she has a fabulous clear voice, her characterisation understated yet full of emotion. The high energy of the disciples and zealots also contrast well with the rigid self-serving stance of Annas (Matt Bateman), Caiaphas and the Pharisees. Backed by the distant masked figure of the Roman Emperor they are full of self-righteous importance and not a little absurd. Against their arrogance Ryan O’Donell as a worried Pilate, playing and singing Pilate’s Dream is a wonderful moment.
The culmination of Act 1 is Judas succumbing to the overtures of the Pharisees and agreeing to betray Jesus. The portraying of this is extremely cleverly done using silver paint that leaves him tainted for the remainder of the show.
Act 2 has a very different feel. It is visceral, well-paced and full of intriguing references. An increasingly nervous Christ shares a last supper with his disciples. His doubts that he will be remembered and bitter discourse with Judas are echoed in the haunting Gethsemane. It is during this song that Lee Curran’s lighting, pleasingly subtle until now becomes stratospheric in its impact. It elicits gasps from the audience as all alone an agonised Christ asks God if he really must go through with his forthcoming destiny. Ian McIntosh really delivers in this number. Heartbreak, terror and anger seep through the words, amazing stuff! Judas’ defiant betrayal and Jesus' subsequent arrest by the taunting guards is horrible to watch as the show becomes darker.
A bruised Jesus is dragged before a mocking Caiaphas (Jad Habchi) who sends him on to Herod. Timo Tatzber’s delicious Herod is a moment of relief in the increasing gloom. Swathed in metres of gold he is funny, bitchy, vicious and relishes the camp tradition of the role as he struts among his attendants, who appear to have plates round their necks.... In a macabre game of pass-the-responsibility, Herod returns the brutalised Christ to the Roman Governor Pilate. Once again Ryan O’Donnell shines as Pilate. He sings Trial by Pilate / 39 Lashes with great passion and intensity.
The inevitability of the crucifixion now weighs heavily over the production. The despair is palpable and the silence as Jesus dies profound both on stage and in the auditorium.
All in all, it seems to me to be a show of two halves. The idea that it is a gig inhibits some of the clarity of the story and limits the production rather than enhancing it. There are many clever ideas, some great singing and overall it is very enjoyable, just not my favourite iteration.
Jesus Christ Superstar plays in The Lyric at Theatre Royal Plymouth until Saturday 11th November. Head to www.theatreroyal.com to check availability and to book tickets.
All views are my own and I pride myself on being honest, fair and free from influence. Theatre is subjective and it is important to remember that all views expressed are just those of one reviewer.
My ticket for this performance of Jesus Christ Superstar was gifted by Theatre Royal Plymouth who invited me to watch the show on behalf of Pink Prince Theatre in exchange for my honest review. The fact that my ticket was gifted played no part in the content of my review or the star rating given.
Ian McIntosh as Jesus; Shem Omari James as Judas; Hannah Richardson as Mary; Ryan O'Donnell as Pilate; Jad Habchi as Caiaphas; Matt Bateman as Annas; Timo Tatzber as Herod; Charlie McCullagh as Alternate Jesus; Luke Street as Alternate Judas
Ensemble: Jasmine Jules Andrews; Pàje Campbell; Francis Foreman; Louise Francis; Megan Bryony G; Joshua Hawkins; Darius J James; Cassandra Lee; Stephen Lewis-Johnson; Jordan Michael Todd; Jago Mottart; Mia Musakambev A; Timothy Roberts
Swings: Carla Bertran; Daniel Bowskill; Myla Carmen; Christopher Tendai (Resident Choreographer)
RUNNING TIME (approx):
1 hour 55 minutes, including interval
Smoke; Haze; Loud music and sound effects; Fake blood and glitter used on stage; Depiction of crucifixion and death.
All images used are of the North American tour cast
The Theatre Royal Plymouth is the principle home of the performing arts in the South West and is the largest and most attended regional producing theatre in the country. Their mission is to develop and deepen people's engagement with pioneering creativity in Plymouth and the South West, delivering experiences that spark delight, expression and fulfilment. The venue offers three performance spaces of various sizes, the largest being The Lyric which accommodates the big touring productions. The Drum and The Lab are smaller, intimate spaces and often offer pioneering and community productions.