Going to see a play about Jesus is a little like going to watch any dramatisation about the Titanic – you kind of know how it will all end. But this one-man play by Matthew Hunt with its original slant on this very well known story, is so superbly delivered by Simon Callow that the journey itself is worth taking all over again.
Callow is stunning in his command of regional accents, including a little ‘Norn Irish’, which he uses to breathe life into the different characters he embodies in this recounting of the life of Jesus Christ through the eyes of many of the people who witnessed or indeed played a role in it. From Miriam (the mother of Jesus) to Pontius Pilate, whether the characters he is portraying are male or female, Mr Callow illustrates why he is one of theatre’s leading actors as he convincingly engages us in their accounts of what they have witnessed.
The staging is uncharacteristically austere compared to previous Lyric productions but the starkness works perfectly with the solitary figure who appears on stage. As the play progresses, however, and a new chair is gradually added as each new character is introduced, the scene becomes positively crowded – a tribute to the skill of Mr Callow in successfully creating the ‘illusion’ for his audience.
As to the message of the play, very much like the story of Christianity, this is entirely up to the individual to decide how they interpret it. The playwright aims to show Jesus as a man of his time and geographical location but who was to subsequently have such an undeniably major impact on the history of the world. But for me, the significance lay in the fact that Jeshua’s voice itself is not heard – just his words and acts through the voices of those who accompanied him on his journey to Jerusalem; a very audible depiction of how the religion and belief of Christianity was ultimately spread throughout the world.
Whether you believe that he was the son of God, an important historical figure or merely an interesting man, this play is certainly worth experiencing if nothing else for the master class provided by Simon Callow in how to engage an audience for 1 hour and 45 minutes with the aid of his, dare I say it, God-given talent and a dozen or so wooden chairs.
Review by Pam Brown
The Man Jesus runs on the Danske Bank Stage until 20 April. Tickets from £15 – £24.50. To book either show contact the Lyric box office on 028 9038 1081 or online at www.lyrictheatre.co.uk