An amateur production of Stephen Schwartz’s 1971 retelling of the Gospel according to St Matthew may not be everyone’s cup of communion wine on a Saturday afternoon, but the Bridewell’s only a ten minute walk from home so we thought we’d give it a shot.
Reconceived by director Robert J Stanex to take place outside St Paul’s during the Occupy protest of 2011/12, the disciples are disaffected members of the 99% paying the price for the mistakes of the powerful and rich 1%. Jesus shows them that loving their fellow man is the way to salvation, but pays the ultimate price when he is fatally stabbed by a gang of hoodies on the steps of the cathedral.
This is quite simply the best amateur production I have ever seen. Endlessly creative, the cast performing a tap number in socks with badges attached in lieu of tap shoes while Jesus skateboards around the stage singing to ukulele playing masked “Anonymous” members is one jaw-dropping highlight. Another is a manacled Jesus simply framed by projections on white sheets during “Beautiful City”. Any director worth their salt would be proud of what Stanex and choreographer Kimberley Barker have achieved.
It goes without saying that the role of Jesus is crucial and Joe Penny, a researcher at the New Economics Foundation in his day job, is astounding. Many a West End performer should count themselves lucky that they are not up against this immensely talented young man when auditioning for professional shows. His easy-going demeanour masking an inner determination and his voice beautifully conveying every emotion, even when skateboarding.
With an on-stage five piece band, led by musical director David Griffiths, looking and sounding like they are having the time of their lives, the enormous cast fill the former Victorian swimming pool with Schwartz’s glorious pop//rock score. While some of the supporting cast may not reach Penny’s dizzying heights, as an ensemble they are faultless.
Virtually floating up Farringdon Road on a cloud of joy afterwards, “Prepare Ye, The Way of the Lord” earworming into my brain, I found myself in total agreement with Robert J Stanex's conceit that a contemporary Jesus would almost certainly have been found amongst all those young people railing against unfairness and injustice. Meanwhile the gorgeous gang performing with such conviction at the Bridewell are bringing the Light of the World to this Beautiful City of ours in their time off from the daily grind and I for one am mightily grateful that they are.
I cannot wait for their production of Love Story in October.
Booking until 13 April 2013, never mind Christ on a bike, Jesus on a skateboard it's good - Godspell