Brockley Jack 30 August – 3 September, Theatre N16 4 – 8 September. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
If the actual gospels were this entertaining, then a lot more people would be going to church.
Arrows and Traps latest production, The Gospel According To Philip, is a romp through the highlight reel of Jesus’ Lord of the Dance Tour 30AD, as observed in excruciating detail by wannabe disciple Philip. In this new comedy, Richard Melchior and Heidi Svoboda have written the disciples as the nightmare pupils from hell, with poor Jesus (Pearce Sampson) getting stuck in circular discussions about tiny details as if he was a hapless trainee teacher. Philip (Will Mytum) hangs on every word Jesus says like an enthusiastic puppy, whilst James (Matthew Harrison-James) is the special needs pupil whose greatest achievement is turning up on time. Matthew (Gareth Kearns) delights in asking awkward but pertinent questions to expose the flaws in Jesus’ logic, and Paul (Alex Stevens) is ready to blame all evils on the gays – who he REALLY REALLY hates, especially their fit, tempting bodies. Simon and Thomas (Elle Banstead-Salim and Olivia Hanrahan-Barnes) have suspiciously luxuriant beards and appear to be more interested in Judas (Adam Elliot) than Jesus; while Peter (Tom Telford) is the teacher’s pet who is constantly tormented by the effortlessly cool Judas, whose tales of loose women provide the disciples with deeper insights than Jesus’ parables.
Jesus’ miracles are never seen, instead the consequences are reported by those involved. The wedding at Cana is described by the sobbing bride, sitting on the toilet complaining about Jesus taking over her big day, and Lazarus’ reunion with his widow doesn’t quite go to plan, probably because of the smell. The Last Supper is a hilarious disaster with Jesus stomping off to the garden for a smoke after having to use very interesting (and tastier) substitutes for communion. The writing is irreverent and insightful, taking a swipe at organised religion – Paul goes to Rome to set up his gold filled money obsessed death cult – but also celebrating individual choice and faith in humanity, summed up beautifully in Philip’s final gospel entry; made all the more poignant by the fact that writer Heidi Svoboda sadly died last year, leaving this play as a wonderful legacy. But most importantly, the writing is laugh out loud funny. Comparisons with Life of Brian are addressed swiftly and neatly, and God and Jesus even give their own scathing reviews of the fantastic temptation scene and Satan’s forecast of the horrors people will commit in Jesus’ name.
With costumes and props resembling an anarchic school nativity play, director Ross McGregor and the cast have developed a show that feels as if the cast are having just as much fun as the audience. Will Mytum is adorable as wide-eyed Philip, reading his gospel entries with a sweet lisp, and Pearce Sampson’s Jesus is fantastic, forcing a fixed grin as his patience grows thin with his followers. Adam Elliot is a joy to watch as Judas, manipulating and mocking the other disciples with cocky glee, and his double act with Tom Telford’s Peter is pure sibling warfare. Telford’s expressions as he is outwitted are a delight. Alex Stevens’ sudden transformations from Paul’s nervy near silence into rabid wild eyed rants about the foulness of gays will make you squirm and laugh in equal measure. Gareth Kearns makes you want to slap him as know it all Matthew, and Elle Banstead-Salim’s Mary Magdalene is full of hair swishing feistiness. Olivia Hanrahan-Barnes gives a well-judged, no frills performance as Satan, making him the sanest and most logical character in the play.
There are dance numbers too! Well, Jesus is the Lord of the Dance. Pearce Sampson’s choreography is simple, but every cast member holds character and delivers the ridiculous moves brilliantly, making the audience whoop with delight.
The Gospel According To Philip is wildly entertaining, irreverent and hysterical, but it has a sweet hopefulness running through it that will leave you with a warm and fuzzy feeling. Everything you could wish for in a comedy – this deserves a long run in bigger venues. Spread the Gospel, and share the dance moves – Jesus rocks.