The story of Christ is re-told, but with Jesus kissing men and Mary drinking wine.
Rhum and Clay’s most recent project is a one-man tour-de-force. An adaptation of Dario Fo’s masterpiece one-man show that re-tells the stories of Jesus Christ from the perspective of the Jongleur, a medieval travelling story-teller who offers an unconventional perspective on the life of the Messiah. Julian Spooner, one of Rhum and Clay’s founders and artistic directors, takes on the mammoth task of recreating Fo’s legendary reinterpretation of the New Testament and pulls it off with consummate skill. Directed by Nicholas Pitt, the performance weaves together parts of Fo’s original script with new material into a narrative that doesn’t only deconstruct many of the double standards inherent within the Catholic Church; but also manages to subtly make the very same double standards obvious within much of today’s society.
Starting the performance dressed as a Deliveroo driver, the Jongleur is identified as the modern-day everyman but the stories he tells are far from modern. Playing dozens of characters throughout the play, Spooner recounts the stories of: Herod’s Massacre; The Wedding at Cana; the Resurrection of Lazarus and, of course, the Crucifixion. Through these stories, the world of Christ seems a lot less wholesome than traditionally thought, as we encounter amoral soldiers, ticketed miracles and a drunken Madonna. When adapted for Italian television, it was these depictions of the realities and the brutalities of Biblical times that caused the Vatican to call it “the most blasphemous show in the history of television”.
Spooner, a LeCoq graduate, uses his immense physical skill and storytelling prowess to create a fantastic, hilarious and emotional world in which one can begin to understand the banal and everyday nature of the life of Christ. The portrayal of Christ himself as a happy-go-lucky American (reminiscent of Dogma’s “Buddy Christ”) is a perfectly whimsical element of the show, which is used expertly to alleviate some of the heavier, more brutal elements of the narrative (of which there are several). An absolute feat of stamina and multi-rolling ability, the ninety-minute show (with no interval) takes you on a quasi-historical journey through Christ’s life and work, with a view to examining the “truth” of the stories by approaching them from unconventional perspectives.
While the show retains a quality of religious scepticism, it is clear that the company were trying to address wider concerns about the relationship between faith and fact in today’s society and the ways in which this can be and is exploited for profit. The questions that the play asks are larger than just those of scriptural deviance, they are of the nature of power and faith: how do we curate belief through stories, and how do these stories allow the powerful to exploit the believers?
I will finish with the shows final words- a violently anti-authoritarian exaltation screamed from the mouth of a despairing disciple: “Beat Them. Beat Them. Beat Them!”
Mistero Buffo comes to the Greenwich Theatre on February 4th
Words, by Oli Bates @olijbates
Pic, Greenwich Theatre