Pros: The funniest fringe comedy I’ve reviewed this year.
Cons: Someone sat behind me kept rummaging in a bag of sweets.
On my way to the Jack Studio Theatre in Crofton Park, I was nervously thinking how I would possibly made it through a two-hour show after eleven hours at work with a persistent sore throat. But, when the show started, I forgot all my pain and witnessed in the blink of an eye the most excruciatingly funny fringe comedy I’ve ever reviewed.
This mildly blasphemous take on the life of Jesus Christ (Pearce Sampson) is narrated in his gospel by the diligent apostle-wannabe Philip (Will Mytum) and touches all the milestones of the Messiah’s journey, from the Marriage at Cana to his Passion and Resurrection, including the Last Supper with prawn cocktail crisps and rum.
The script, here at its world premiere, bears the fruits of a collaboration between Richard Melchior and the late Heidi Svoboda, and presents all the known characters from a new perspective. Peter (Tom Telford) is the head apostle who keeps bickering with Judas (Adam Elliott) for his secular and opportunistic attitude. Paul (Alex Stevens) is a homophobic closeted gay, James (Matthew Harrison-James) is the simpleton of the gang and Matthew (Gareth Kearns) seems to be the only one who takes the world seriously. Thomas (Olivia Hanrahan-Barnes) and Simon (Elle Banstead-Salim) on the other hand are two women in disguise and, therefore, try to maintain a low profile.
Before heading to the theatre, my guest and I decided to have some food at the adjacent Brockley Jack pub, for which I advise you allow plenty of time as the kitchen can get quite busy. The space is beautifully decorated and there is also a garden for sunny days. The studio at the back is larger than many black boxes I’ve been to and the raked seats are quite comfortable.
Annoyingly, some of my fellow audience members kept fiddling with a noisy plastic bag during the first half which affected my concentration. Despite that, I thoroughly enjoyed watching an ensemble of committed actors who seemed to have great fun whilst performing. The Arrows & Traps Theatre Company, in fact, appears to be tightly woven and its members cover multiple roles on and off stage. This is the case with Pearce Sampson, both choreographer and Jesus; Gareth Kearns who plays Matthew and doubles also as sound designer; Beth Gibbs the lighting designer and stage manager; and director and costume designer Ross McGregor. They all did an amazing job in fine-tuning the mix of countless jokes and thought-provoking messages with their visual and physical counterpart.
The real power of this Pythonesque satire is in its solid script that stands out independently from the size of the venue or the budget of the production. Arrows and Traps offer a rather modest set and sober costumes, with a clever use of lighting to shift the attention of the public. I’m sure that this flamboyant piece would preserve all its freshness if performed in a much more sumptuous scenario.
If you are curious to find out what the apostles look like as a Lord of the Dance team, how Mary Magdalene (also played by Elle Banstead-Salim) feels about being considered a prostitute and what Satan (also played by Olivia Hanrahan-Barnes) really told Jesus in the desert, don’t miss The Gospel According to Philip. Shining with 90s Christian pop songs and some serious and poignantly explained thoughts about religion, this comedy will send you home with a huge smile and probably desperate to see it again.
Authors: Richard Melchior and Heidi Svoboda
Director: Ross McGregor
Producer: Arrows and Traps Theatre Company
Box Office: 07969 138899
Booking Link: www.ticketsource.co.uk/event/139641
Booking Until: Catch this show at the N16, Balham until the 8 September 2016