Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Jesus Christ Superstar; Pigs and Dogs

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Jesus Christ Superstar; Pigs and Dogs

Article excerpt

An inspired decision to stage Jesus Christ Superstar in a summer theatre in Regent's Park. The action takes place outdoors, in balmy climes, so the atmosphere is ideal for Rice and Lloyd Webber's finest show. The songbook bursts with melodic inventiveness, and the score blithely rips apart the conventions of musical theatre and remakes them afresh. Lloyd Webber finds two contemporary registers and switches between them constantly: first the eerie, unhinged menace of late-1960s heavy rock, and secondly the sweet, escapist loveliness of 1970s pop. The transitions from blunt savagery to pure sugar sometimes occur with gunshot abruptness, on a single note.

Tim Rice's lyrical complexity and dramatic assurance are evident from the very first salvo delivered by a jealous but hard-headed Judas pleading with Jesus to restrain the dangerous adulation of his followers. The superb Tyrone Huntley (Judas) has the authentic howl of a rock star and his angry urchin's features are full of despairing recrimination. Great stuff from Caiaphas and the Pharisees, a chorus line of thugs in weird sci-fi costumes, who purr and sway through their numbers with dainty co-ordinated gestures. They're chic, funky, absurd and threatening all at once. Peter Caulfield as the camp gangster, Herod, is the highlight of the second act (but hats off to the authors for creating the best cameo in musical theatre). Elsewhere there are patches and holes. Anoushka Lucas (Mary) sings beautifully but her face conveys none of the agonised self-reproach offered by the lyrics. She looks bored. While she warbles passionlessly through 'I Don't Know How To Love Him' the 'Him' in question, Jesus, is moping cross-legged against a low wall fiddling with baccy and Rizlas. Yes, the Son of God smokes roll-ups. Surely an early miracle could have solved his cravings. Or, failing that, the Paraclete might have sent some nicotine patches clamped in the beak of a sacred dove.

The part is played by Declan Bennett, a fallen boyband star, whose facial lineaments lack the psychological qualities of Jesus. He doesn't look noble, grave, wise, saintly, or even kind. Just a bit sulky. A plain white robe would help create a messianic aura (ask any priest) but he's togged out in the same undistinguished Glastonbury flannels as his disciples. The grey strands in his beard need to be dealt with and his shaved Shoreditch hairdo owes far too much to the stormtrooper look of Ernst Röhm's Brownshirts. …

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