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Corpus Christi, The Space – Review

Terrence McNally

Directed by John Fricker
★★★
Pros: Intense and original crucifixion scene; with Judas reading a passage from the gospels while Texan rangers take Jesus to the cross.
Cons: A little rough around the edges with the mix of modern and classic clashing at points.
Our Verdict: A different Christmas experience. Brave and gutsy in its interpretation of the gospel, with warm performances from the cast.
Credit: OutFox Productions
The Space is an old Victorian church transformed into a performing space in the 1900s. The inside structure maintains the original architecture of the building; with the audience sitting in the nave, facing the crossing where the priests would lead mass, and where performances now take place. Incidentally, the background and history of the theatre works perfectly with the requirements of this play. Corpus Christi is a re-interpretation of the story of Jesus, from nativity to Corpus Christi and crucifixion, as told by the Gospels.
Before the play opens, the cast of thirteen gather round and, much like in Shakespearean plays, give a prologue asking for indulgence from the audience since the story they are about to tell is well-known. This left me expecting furry wigs of normal nativity plays and not the sleazy Texan motel the scene takes place in. Mary, played by Stephen Gibbons, gives birth to Jesus, also called Joshua throughout the play, surrounded by the sounds of what I imagine are prostitutes from the adjacent rooms. Andro Cowperthwaite as Jesus/Joshua makes baby sounds as Joseph, played by Ben Peterson, angrily demands Mary’s presence in the bedroom.
This is not a classic Gospel story; James Dean and Marilyn Monroe are Jesus/Joshua’s idols growing up. Living with a disappointed mother and absent father he retreats into himself, occasionally hearing voices that tell him he is the son of God. He attends the high-school prom, is a little bi-curious about his sexuality, gets bullied and even dates Judas, played by JP Lord. The all-male cast morph from little girls, to old teachers and bullies with only Jesus and Judas staying in character throughout the performance. By the scene of the last supper, they all play one of the apostles.
There is a shocking contrast between the classic and the modern in the way OutFox Productions has chosen to present this Catholic story that permeates across the venue, to plot, and presentation of themes and setting. A big shiny Saint Patrick’s cross in the Victorian church exemplifies this, covered in gleaming silver and pink wrapping paper. Needles of light project from the cross giving a kaleidoscopic effect to scenes. There was hardly anything on stage in the way of props. The occasional bench, a whip, the crucifixion cross and little else. The performers were dressed in simple linen trousers and shirts, using different items of clothing to change from character to character.
The cast list is too long to mention, but every single one was really interesting to watch. What surprised me most was how lovingly they treated the characters they were portraying. It wasn’t a theatrical performance so much as a human one. I went to Catholic school and I remember the warmth the nuns would transmit when telling us this story, and was reminded of this feeling during the performance. The group had fun on stage, were versatile with the change in scenes, and seemed very aware ad respectful of the characters they were playing, both old and new. One thing I found very interesting was that before the performance, we see the cast warming up, clearing vocal chords and occasionally hugging each other.
This is a Christmas production, albeit not your usual one. Jesus/Joshua is presented simply as a man: he is attracted by men, gets angry, makes mistakes but rises above them. Within this production today’s most controversial themes in religion are combined with the timelessness of the story. It may not be everyone’s idea of a Christmas production, but it certainly is ballsy and I personally liked it.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below! 
Corpus Christi runs at The Space Theatre until 14th December 2013. 

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