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Jesus Christ Superstar: A fragmented production that astonishes

| Theatre | 28/07/2016

Jesus Christ Superstar © Open Air Theatre
Jesus Christ Superstar © Open Air Theatre
Rating:

The iconic Jesus Christ Superstar, adapted by Timothy Sheader, is the penultimate production of the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre season.  Sandip Kana saw the show on behalf of What’s On London.  

Since being created by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Jesus Christ Superstar has enjoyed many chapters to its production life and here another was added.  Sheader’s version, though it fragments at times and may be too dark for some, stuns in a way that few Open Air Theatre productions have in recent years.  Its message is unique and as a musical it astonishes.

The mood to the show is undoubtedly darker than the original Broadway version.  As you walk into the Open Air Theatre, you cannot help but feel sombre as smoke sweeps across a rustic, downtrodden set design, complete with crucifixion walkway.  The scene is reminiscent of two derelict buildings left abandoned and isolated, with only parts of their shells left intact.  Some have written that it reminds them of the Twin Towers and, with the walkway so prominent, designer Tom Scutt sets a sinister undertone.

But, in my view, this forms the perfect backdrop to captivate and enthral the audience as the story of betrayal, horror and death is brought to life before them.  And the dark and morbid moments – of which there are many – are cleverly offset by the original rock-inspired music, blended expertly into the narration.

Jesus Christ Superstar © Open Air Theatre

Jesus Christ Superstar © Open Air Theatre

However, despite the flow of music and choreography, at times the production fragments, leaving the audience a little bewildered.  It’s written that Judas said to Jesus: “It seems to me a strange thing, mystifying.”  This seems nicely to sum up Sheader’s energetic and melodramatic production.

The casting was one aspect that was spot on.  Tyrone Huntley was especially commanding, yet managed to bring out the vulnerable side of Judas.  Declan Bennett was – as expected – a strong lead.  His voice may not have hit the heights as much as Huntley’s, but he injected passion and made the audience feel his pain, suffering and anguish.

There were also notable performances from Anoushka Lucas as Mary, and Sean Kingsley as Annas and Cavin Cornwall as Caiaphas, both of whom brought comedy to the stage.  There was no weak link in a very strong company.

Timothy Sheader seems to have performed a miracle at the Open Air Theatre.  Andrew Lloyd Webber set a very high bar for Jesus Christ Superstar, but Sheader and co have been able to reach it, if not raise it a little.

Jesus Christ Superstar plays at the Open Air Theatre until 27th August 2016.  For tickets, head to www.openairtheatre.com.

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