Sunday, 7 April 2013

The Man Jesus at the Lyric Theatre Review

Wednesday night saw the world premiere of  The Man Jesus at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast.  A one man show written by Matthew Hurt and starring Simon Callow, the show tells the story of Jesus, from the point of view of various characters we know from the Bible.

Matthew Hurt's programme note says that the play is 'an attempt to peel away the the layers of assumption and the residue of mythology so that we can look into the face of a man'. Given the religious mythology that has been layered on the historical Jesus over hundreds of years, this is a tall order.

The stage is completely stripped back, the brick walls and fire evacuation sign giving a sense of stark bareness, of barrenness, almost of bleakness.  This allows the audience to focus only on the actor on stage and gives the feeling of the story being told in any space or time.

Each character portrayed is given their name in Aramaic, Jesus as Yeshua, Judas as Yehuda, Mary as Miryam.  While I understand the concept behind this decision was to remove the preconceptions an audience member may have, I found this confusing to follow and spent a lot of time as each character was introduced trying to figure out who the biblical character was.  Every character had their own accent, perhaps to enable the audience to differentiate between each.  I found this very distracting and would have liked to see each character presented with more physicality, removing the strong accents completely, and providing a completely stripped back portrayal.

Simon Callow himself is an amazing actor and handled the show well despite being ill.  His passionate portrayals and understanding of the stage is excellent.

The Man Jesus is a brave play which absolutely does present Jesus as a charismatic man, an important human being and as a radical of his day.  The play does not attempt to dismiss the mythology which has sprung up from his story, but looks at how his charisma, strangeness and different opinions affected those around him and describes how his magnetism encouraged people to follow him.

Of course, it should be noted that while Matthew Hurt attempts to strip the story back and remove the years of legend and layers of mythology, he uses as his source, the Gospels, which cannot be dated accurately and are anonymous.  Other Gospels were not included in the Bible at all. The Gospels are themselves a mythology and thus we can never truly know The Man Jesus.

The Man Jesus is playing at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast until 20th April.
Click here to find out more.            


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