Lyrics: Tim Rice
Music: Andrew Lloyd-Webber
Director: Timothy Sheader
Winning the hearts of 2.2 billion Christians worldwide, the story of Jesus’ brief time on earth has captivated mankind for the last two thousand years. Although not quite as far reaching, since Lloyd-Webber’s first incarnation of the rock-opera, an excess of two million people have attended London’s West End to watch this musical retelling of Jesus’ fateful and final days.
Due to the complex and sensitive nature of this story, it seems sensible to explain briefly what unfolds. It would be unfair to assume that all audience members would be familiar with the finer details and, as a result, it might prove especially tricky to follow the production in the first act – mostly due to the unpunctuated songbook and lack of set changes. Told from the perspective of Judas Iscariot, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem where he is welcomed by crowds waving palm branches. The following days, known as Holy Monday and Holy Tuesday, Jesus taught in the Temple, confronted religious leaders and delivered parables. On Maundy Thursday Jesus shared the Last Supper with his disciples and later that evening, in the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed fervently while his disciples slept before being betrayed by one of his closest companions. He was arrested, tried and the rest is history.
The sparse but effective set, created by Tom Scutt, exposes the contextual brutality from curtain rise; mimicking a building site the audience instantly recognised the industrious nature of Jerusalem. Foreshadowing Jesus’ destiny, a cross, cut out of the backdrop, acted as a less than subtle reminder of how the performance would end and doubled as an additional entrance/exit for the chorus.
Equally successful, particularly in conveying the disparity between class and race inequality, were Scutt’s costumes – most striking was the costume adorned by Herod during his vaudeville-style number. In Scutt’s own words ‘the costumes [notably the followers of Jesus] were the wind to the set’s earth […] giving a sense that people are temporary vagrants that pass through a world of long-lasting structure’. The looseness facilitated the chorus to engage wholeheartedly in Ashley Andrew’s powerful choreography – underpinning the production with a feeling of unstoppable momentum.
Olivier Award Nominee, Ian McIntosh is nothing short of sensational. He is the making of each and every musical number he turns his hand to and ‘Gethsemane (I only want to say)’ is no exception to this rule. From the first number until the curtain call, he commands the audience’s attention. He is a tour-de-force, a shining light in the world of musical theatre and a privilege to watch. His performance is bolstered by the talented Hannah Richardson who plays the role of Mary Magdalene with a real sense of purpose and the superb Ryan O’Donnell as Pontius Pilate. Notable mention should go to Jad Habchi whose silky vocal range navigated challenging octave drops with ease.
Goodness knows how many more people will capitalise on the opportunity to witness this feat of theatre, but a full house on opening night suggests that the number will only skyrocket moving forward. Arriving in Plymouth during its second month on UK tour, The Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre Production didn’t just meet, it surpassed every expectation.
Running Until: 11th November 2023