Writer: Justin Butcher
Director: Guy Masterson
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
The greatest story ever told was never really one story at all; it was a collection of narratives, reminiscences and experiences of people who encountered one particular man for a few minutes or a few years which have been fashioned into one ‘account’ of the life and death of the son of God. In Easter week, Justin Butcher brings his 2016 one-man show The Devil’s Passion to St James’ Church in Piccadilly to retell the story from the one being whose perspective we’ve never heard… Satan.
In the hour before the Gethsemane betrayal, the Devil as commander-in- chief of his dark forces gives his minions a rousing speech assuring them that triumph is close by. Cutting back to the birth of Jesus, the Devil recounts the life of the man who claims to be the son of God, a ‘rabble-rouser’, ‘extremist’ and ‘anarchist’ who threatens to tear down the hierarchies and systems that keep the world in order. Although Jesus is resistant to temptation and willing to die for the cause, the Devil has one last trick up his sleeve.
Justin Butcher’s work is an impressive a one-man show as you’ll ever see, not only extending to two hours but in vividly creating and enacting countless characters each with their own perspective on the Easter story. The energy he brings to scene after scene in a physically and vocally demanding performance is striking and, visibly sweating and wrought after an hour alone on stage, never has anyone deserved, or presumably needed, an interval more.
In what is a patchwork of testimony, while playing a charismatic and charming Devil, Butcher assumes the role of everyone else in the story as well – from the poor and needy villagers who come forward to be healed, to jealous priests who do a deal with Judas, Mariam better known in the West as Mary his mother and indeed Jesus himself, all of which are for the most part clearly delineated and given their own imploring monologues. He even voices the donkey that gives Jesus a ride on Palm Sunday.
Less successful is the translation to modern setting and the link Butcher is trying to make with modern notions of extreme religious fanaticism. It starts well in the Devil’s bunker with talk of operatives, surveillance and fences, but this language could better fed through the whole piece and seems to sit uneasily against descriptions of scribes and Pharisees. It would be a great idea it more fully realised.
It’s also an indulgent long evening, especially in the first half where some scenes and monologues do feel unnecessarily prolonged, and although Butcher’s performance is full throttle at all times, it is also overly decorated by gesticulation where occasional moments of stillness, as well as some editing, would enhance the drama of the story.
This revival of The Devil’s Passion is a welcome and at times gripping account of the Easter story with an interesting and thoughtful approach, that utilises Jack C Arnold’s soundscape and Andrew Shewan’s lighting to build the escalating tension. We all know how it ends, but Butcher’s engaging show does make you wonder what it means today, using a clever multi-narrative approach to bring a new perspective ahead of Easter weekend.
Runs until 14 April 2017 | Image: Hannah Barton