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Weightless babblefest

Bliss
Royal Court Peter Pan, El Musical
Garrick The Last Days of Judas Iscariot
Almeida

9 April 2008

12:00 AM

9 April 2008

12:00 AM

Bliss
Royal Court

Peter Pan, El Musical
Garrick


The Last Days of Judas Iscariot
Almeida

The Royal Court’s anointed one, Caryl Churchill, has translated a new play, Bliss, by the Canadian writer Olivier Choinière. Bliss goes like this. Four shelf-stackers dressed in supermarket fatigues stand in a communal lavatory. They narrate a long dreary tale about Céline Dion, her family and some journalists. After half an hour, there’s a new story. A pregnant woman, whose body lacks genital or cloacal apertures, is forced to give birth by firing the foetus through her sealed rectum while she explodes. At least I think that’s what it was about. When their tales end so does the play. Bliss! What an absurd weightless babblefest. And how crazy to break one of the theatre’s first principles: make the action immediate. I mean, come on. If you pay to see a lion-tamer you don’t expect the chap in the leopard-print singlet to trot into the ring and start telling you about some lion-taming that happened a while back somewhere else. You paid for lion-taming. You expect lions. You expect taming. Simple. But I suspect, rather wearily, that the dislocation between the characters and their stories is exactly the point of this play, which probably wishes to highlight some telling emotional rupture between industrialised man and the tabloid gossip that consoles his inner loneliness. Big deal. Incidentally, each spectator was obliged to don a nylon supermarket uniform before entering the cramped auditorium. These thick non-breathable costumes made us overheat very nearly to the point where we could nod off but not quite. What a show. They made us bored, they made us boil, then they buggered off with our money. The Royal Court strikes again.

The critics have had fun trashing Peter Pan, El Musical, an imported version of the J.M. Barrie tale that struck gold in Spain. Over here, the public are busy buying tickets despite being told not to by the critics, one of whom advised the Garrick’s proprietors to leave the theatre dark rather than receive this show. Well, the next progression in that argument is to call for the place to be converted into service flats. OK, the production is a tad pleased with itself and the plasticated scenery belongs in a Mr Blobby theme park but the tunes are perfectly hummable and the improv sections are charmingly handled. I even enjoyed the dreaded singalong where we were invited to link hands with our immediate neighbours and croon, ‘Hay que creer in hadas’ (‘You have to believe in fairies’). The chap next to me seemed to have a more potent belief than my own. We critics sometimes forget that shows like this are aimed at kids, not at jaded professional reviewers who watch 200 plays a year.

Whopping disappointment at the Almeida. The Last Days of Judas Iscariot by Stephen Adly Guirgis is set in purgatory. A supernatural court must decide whether Judas’s soul will go to heaven or hell. Trouble is, we don’t care. Judas barely speaks until the final moments so it’s impossible to become involved in his fate. The onomatopoeic Adly Guirgis (say it twice and you get the noise of bath-dregs emptying) is more interested in rowdy slapstick and celebrity-baiting than in theology. Mother Teresa takes the stand (in the trial of Judas?) and she’s portrayed as a Bible-belt momma full of homely aphorisms. ‘Evbody wan say summin,’ she burbles. ‘Nobody wan listen nuddin.’ Sigmund Freud pops up and is teased for his drug-taking and his intellectual pomposity, neither of which are germane to his banal analysis of Judas. The only decent character is Satan (played as a sharky badass dude by the electrifying Douglas Henshall), whose amoral banter is witty enough. ‘How’re you feeling today?’ asks an attorney. ‘Long night,’ shrugs Satan, ‘no regrets.’ But when he returns in the second act, with muted lighting and duller repartee, he’s an anticlimax. I’m staggered that this lukewarm mishmash has been called ‘intelligent’ when the author expects his audience not to know what ‘Zealot’ and ‘Mosaic law’ mean. Occasionally Mr Prattly Gargoyles blunders into interesting territory: Christ’s redemption was generated by an act of violence and therefore Christianity is in a sense predicated upon evil. It’s a stimulating paradox and one which any decent RE teacher deals with at primary-school level. This is a dippy satirical fantasy which expresses nothing but the author’s whimsical fascination with Christian theology. Towards the end, I realised I’d seen it all before. A scatterbrained buffoon discusses the hows and whys of his faith while his audience snores. The definition of a sermon.


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