Review: The Man Jesus

is blown away by Simon Callow in this one man show

Photo: themanjesus.co.uk

Photo: themanjesus.co.uk

Venue: Grand Opera House York
Rating: ★★★★★

This incredible new play looks back at the people who witnessed Jesus’ life and how their characters were shaped by his influence. Hurt’s play is a humanist take on the Gospel of Mark.

Attending a one-man play is always met with caution, one might imagine a dull, prosaic story telling of biblical accounts for two hours but this is certainly not the case. Callow has an incredible ability for characterisation; he has lightning speed character changes, making subtle alterations to his posture or expression, as he’d swiftly glide from character to character, notably not pandering to caricatures of gender or media. Callow’s theatrical technique is utterly faultless.

Each personality was also played with a regional British accent from a Scottish bruiser John the Baptist to an RP Joann. A clever addition for a touring show of Britain but it also created a sense of verisimilitude as Callow took the story from miles away in Galilee to a more recognisable British backdrop. Callow showed off his dialectical skill in swapping and maintaining a multitude of British accents, finding comedy in the differences of background of close regions ‘One doesn’t speak Aramaic, one contracts it,’ and even continues in that competitive vein describing a Galilee full of ‘hairy-knuckled terrorists’ and illiterate ‘sheep shaggers.’

The production is very stripped back, only a messed pile of chairs in the corner make up the set, which is taken apart, reshaped and used to create ideas of people, groups and familiar images of the last supper. The attention is all on the character.

The writing is both witty and current with familiar idiosyncrasies afforded to Callow when the Scottish Judas has some Banter with the audience saying that ‘Galileans get lost in thought, because it’s unfamiliar territory.’ Hurt even makes subtle nods to the current relevance when he grapples with the Palestinians and The Galileans. One line in particular struck a chord; “Palestine must be independent first, then we can become good Jews.” Something even Obama has stressed.

Callow brings a compelling authenticity to his range of characters, all bearing witness to this charismatic entity aided by an immense amount of energy and a pile of old wooden church chairs.

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