Photo credit: Mark Senior
I caught the 2020 production of Jesus Christ Superstar at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre very late in its run – I wasn’t going to go at all, originally (I mean, it’s not like I don’t know how it ends) but got talked into it by various people who (separately) thought it was worth seeing. The problem on the night was that the temperature had plunged in late September 2020 by about as much as the economy had in March and April of the same year. Added to this, the show, apparently in concert format (or so it has been marketed as such), ran at ninety minutes without an interval, so there wasn’t even a chance to stamp one’s feet and get some warmth going somehow.
So, I found myself sparing a thought for Jesus (Declan Bennett). It wasn’t because of my borderline puritanical Protestant upbringing (at one point many years ago, my family decided they would ban cling film from the house because “the pastor said so”. Demonic cling film!) Towards the end of the show, for obvious reasons, the Messiah is largely unclothed. In the cold autumnal air, it must have been challenging to say the least. (A strict interpretation of the crucifixion account would actually have Jesus on the cross completely nude, which I find rather ironic as it’s something on stage that the religious people would find unacceptable. But that’s the hypocrisy of religion for you.)
Social distancing is very much evident on stage, and everyone stays at what looked to me to be two metres or more from everyone else. Only occasionally does this affect proceedings – Mary Magdalene’s interactions with Christ, for instance, could have been more convincing: when I saw a previous version of the show back in 2016, they were indeed much more intimate. But that’s Rona Corona for you.
Although billed as a concert, it’s probably best described as ‘semi-staged’, with much of the production’s choreography retained. Then again, the production’s previous incarnation (if I may use that word) had the feeling of a rock concert in any event. The inventive use of props is still there, too, particularly when a group of Jewish clergymen make their opinions about Jesus known.
Declan Bennett’s Christ was (lovingly) lampooned in the 2016 run of ‘Jest End’, a parody song cycle making light of theatrical shows and events very much like ‘Forbidden Broadway’, for holding back and being a bit lacklustre, especially when contrasted alongside Tyrone Huntley’s powerhouse Judas Iscariot. The same accusation cannot be levelled at Bennett this time around, and his take on ‘Gethsemane’ was nothing short of remarkable.
As a fellow theatregoer put it, David Thaxton’s Pontius Pilate has a way of making counting (that is, the thirty-nine stripes, or lashes of the whip, that Jesus is said to have received) interesting. Shaq Taylor’s Herod was suitably flashy and extravagant in a number providing light relief from the intensity of Christ’s Passion. Nathan Amzi’s Annas was a delight every time he had a line or a verse to sing, and overall, this was a thoroughly decent if chilly night out.
London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.