Having said that, I did have a scamper through Colm Tóibín’s ‘The Testament of Mary‘ at the start of the year. In a sense, my reaction to that novella and my reaction to ‘The Man Jesus’ are very similar, as I find myself wondering who the desired audience is for each, given that I’m pretty sure it isn’t me.
I didn’t go looking for Jesus. I went looking for Callow. I had enjoyed his ‘Being an Actor’ and wanted to see one of his one man shows. Here he takes on a number of familiar characters, from Mary to Pilate via Judas and John the Baptist. A turn of a body, a change of accent, a jacket removed, a sleeve rolled up, and he becomes a new person. It is gripping stagecraft.
The only role he doesn’t take on is Jesus, although we hear his words through the words of those who met him. And so we are taken on a journey through the gospels and we meet the man who repeatedly disappoints.
He doesn’t talk enough for his brother. He doesn’t send the right message for his cousin. He does not seize the moment where he could make the difference for his friend. He does things his way and his way makes a surprising amount of sense.
The stage contains Callow and a pile of chairs. The chairs reminded me of the end of my own church-going days. Exactly the same wooden seats were being removed to make space. Or to make the space look less like a room of empty seats.
Callow reminded me of everything I love about theatre. That you can stand, one man alone, and command a room. You can be anyone and tell any story and get a good few laughs along the way.
And so I come back to Matthew Hurt’s script and wonder who is it for? It holds back from any declarations that the man was the son of God. It doesn’t go quite as far at the Tóibín novella to set him up as a wild revolutionary, although it is the path he is walking, they do both capture a Mary who is more sympathetic a character than her son.
I can only assume that the piece is for those who enjoy performance, because at the end of the evening, I have no more wonder for Jesus the man, but was in awe of what Callow had achieved. As I come away from the theatre, I know that I loved it and could have watched Callow move from character to character all night. I also wonder if I completely missed the point. Shame on me.
Last Review from the Theatre Royal, Plymouth: Legally Blonde