Review: ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ @ Birmingham Hippodrome

I was a skeptic; ever since first hearing of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ with the ITV1 talent search in 2011, I found it preposterous that something as sacred as religion had been turned into a mere musical, despite loving musicals in all shapes and forms.

I am now officially a convert.

I cannot stop thinking about the performance of ‘JCS’ running at the Birmingham Hippodrome in November 2015. It was stunning and – more than that – it made me rethink my view of one of society’s oldest institutions. I am by no means undergoing a religious conversion, but I’d always thought of it almost as a moralistic tale where people suffered artfully and told long rambling tales to make us understand how to behave – not any more. The suffering of Judas, Pilate and Jesus is haunting in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit musical, so much so that by the end I was ready to cry. In particular, the literally painfully drawn out final scene, where Jesus is nailed screaming to the cross, was hideous for both the obvious and more obscure meanings. His cries of anguish were tormenting, but equally it made us realise: no matter what else he might have been, Jesus was a man of flesh and blood when this happened, and felt everything, calling for his mother and water, never denying his essential humanity. It was here that Glenn Carter, as Jesus, really outshone himself; yes, Gethsemane was stunningly sung, but this was his piece de resistance, and it was truly humbling.

Having seen my fair share of musical theatre, I can honestly say that I’ve never seen such a well choreographed or suitably used cast before. Their movements were so well coordinated without looking false, and intensified the musical dramatics no end; the highlight for this had to be during ‘The Temple’ scene, where Jesus’ cry of ‘heal yourself’ was riveting in the midst of the claustrophobia around him, the faceless and helpless people literally drowning him in their requests.

Two things I have to pull out, though, are Tim Rogers and Rachel Adedejie as Judas and Mary Magdalene. They both had something the other lacked, one more so than another. Judas was hugely moving; his constant lurking presence on stage made his final confused status as victim and murderer compelling. However, there were times when his voice was perhaps not used to its potential, and that potential was clearly there because ‘Superstar’ was astounding right at the end, but before it was perhaps too heavily focused on acting rather than singing. Needless to say this was incredibly minor, particularly when the reacting to things like Jesus’ beatings and arrest were so moving, but noticeable in the face of performances such as Tim Minchin’s in the 2012 revival.

The opposite happened with Mary Magdalene. She felt like a token presence on stage, which was mildly irritating, as though a woman was necessary for looks but nothing else. Likewise, her singing was flawless, but in an idealised way; there was no trouble, no heartbreak behind it, which made ‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’ slightly hollow, which is a shame for such an amazing song. Her acting needed vamping up and injecting into her singing to make the perfect performance.

If I had to pick a favourite segment, it has to be Caiphus and Anas’ initial scenes within the council. ‘This Jesus Must Die’ is my favourite arrangement; the tempo, variety and characters were stunning. A close second had to be ‘Trial Before Pilate’, which was utterly brilliant; seeing Pilate as a victim was much like seeing Judas as one – a moving revelation. His final exasperated pleas to Jesus were breathtaking, and the transformation between empowered statesman to a man holding life in his hands was flawless – it was definitely here where I started to lose control of my emotions!

The ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ tour comes to an end soon, but I can only live in hope that it will restart again in the imminent future, because I would be one of the first to show my devotion at a theatrical temple to such a breathtaking and lyrically infectious musical.

“1984”: Haunting (Non?) Fiction

I am behind the times (ironic for the book I’m discussing) and have only just read George Orwell’s “1984” – and boy, was it one of those books that doesn’t let you go even after the final page has been turned.

Written in the wake of Nazism and the fear of communism, it’s fiction that could easily have become non-fiction if the wrong people had gathered all the power – and power, as O’Brien reminds Winston, is everything. It was perhaps my favourite notion from the book: this wasn’t about good and evil, about right and wrong, it was purely about absolute power. In a way, it almost made it easier to see the Party’s motives, and what really hit me regarding this was the section of Goldstein’s book on the slogan ‘War is Peace’. At the heart of it, the slogan was proven to be right; a constant state of war meant constant alertness, prosperity from war preparations, community spirit in the face of the enemy – it promoted a lot of things we want during peace time, that we strive to achieve. Suddenly, the realm of fiction isn’t so fictitious any more.

I like that we never really know what prompts Winston and Julia to rebel, because it makes it logical that it’s quite literally beaten out of them in the closing chapters of the book. Likewise, they don’t win; dystopian fiction has a tendency to show the endurance of the human spirit, with which there’s nothing wrong, but this became very close to reality. There was no winning, and no losing, just being. And that’s what was scary: this could slot right into any form of reality, whether it’s what we consider a ‘good’ world or a ‘bad’ one.

It’s not a ‘reviewable’ book as such, but it is one that – whether you enjoy it or not – really grips the issues of humanity across time. We should be afraid of being wiped out in personality, in mind – we should cling on to what makes us individual in the face of frightening world events, if only to protect our humanity rather than our society.

Why I’ve Given Up On Doctor Who

Christopher Ecclestone, David Tennant and Russell T. Davies. What do they have in common? The greatest four series and specials of sci-fi/fantasy television produced in the 21st century. So what happened?

Let me get this out there now: Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi are fantastic actors, as are the people around them. But something has gone catastrophically wrong since the end of the Davies era Doctor Who, and it’s only getting worse. The final straw came with the lamest episode to date, ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’, also known as an overactive imagination not screened out during the writing, editing or filming process. I’m not arguing that imagination is bad, but the failure to contain it appropriately has led to bad writing decisions, which is leading to the downfall of a fantastic series that doesn’t deserve to die the death of fallen heroes.

I’ve not been a fan of the Moffatt era since ‘Amy’s Choice’, where everything started to get too convoluted. Both that and the imagination comment suggest I shouldn’t be watching this type of programme, but let me re-iterate that these things can be used well, nay successfully, if used right. But Moffatt and co. have tried to replicate the success of the Bad Wolf, Torchwood, ‘something on your back’, Harold Saxon mysteries by heavy-handedly thrusting a million potentials and clumsy space expressions in viewers’ faces, hoping they’ll see through the fog of unexplained theoretical concepts in order to make sense of the mess.

Let’s take the aforementioned ‘Magician’s Apprentice’. The hands with eyes on: spooky as hell, a riveting start. The appearance of young Davros, mystifying. Planes stopping? The Master/Mistress randomly involving herself in the Doctor’s affairs? The random inclusion of UNIT? The Doctor playing guitar in a party-cum-sacrificial ceremony? I could go on I’m sure, but I stopped watching; there was no story, there was a fanboy vomiting Whovian all over my screen. I’m not saying prior Who episodes were simplistic, but they followed one plot with occasional hints at what was to come, without feeling like something to prove was on the agenda. There’s nothing clever about writing things because you can, but there is in writing one thing well.

And then there’s the assistant overload. They’ve become more important than the Doctor, and no-one seems to appreciate that you can have a clever, sassy female on screen without making her as intelligent as a something-thousand year old man, the titular character who should be the centre of the story. Rose was smart and loved, but she needed the Doctor. Martha, a wannabe medic herself, was clearly in the know, but she did everything she did because she needed the Doctor, not because she could simply outdo him. Donna, Lindsay Duncan’s Adelaide Brooke, Michelle Ryan’s Christina De Souza – all flying the feminist flag without being a master in the own right. Again, Karen Gillan, Jenna Coleman and the like are all wonderful actors, but they are being pushed into a limelight that wasn’t meant for them, not in this show.

I suppose, without rambling on, my complaint is with a lack of refinement; it wasn’t all peaches and cream in the prior series, but it was bloody brilliant nonetheless because of a mix of subtlety, explained madness, and sophistication within the ideas, instead of a mental splurge and the feeling that every line is an intended witticism without real meaning. When the next creative change occurs on Doctor Who, chances are I’ll return to the screen and indulge in my favourite time-traveller once more, but until that moment, I’ll leave the TARDIS and keep my feet firmly in reality.

The New Me…

I am unashamedly devoted to my bookoftomorrow blog, but there’s always room for more literary love and you’ll find it on my sister blog, Natalie Morris – the home of my forays into the literary world.

Sold as the home of a wannabe writer, ranting reviewer and scribbler of stories, it’s the new platform for my literary ambition – who knows, it could be the start of something wonderful.

Happy reading…💕

‘Little Women’: Why Mrs March is one of the Best Literary Mothers

Mothers have it hard in literature. They’re the strict ones that form a sense of rules and obligations, whereas the dads are the heroes, the safe harbours in storms, the ones who gently guide children without being pushy or overbearing. The Atticus’ of the world have often been a source of inspiration and admiration – but where is the female equivalent?

The clue’s in the title with ‘Little Women’ – it’s all about the girls. And as such, Mrs March delivers more than her absentee husband, so much so that I think – after years of searching – I’ve finally found a literary mother who is a heroine for her children and readers alike.

1) She’s approachable: Her children talk to her about everything, and she never judges them, only listens and gives her sage advice.

2) She’s devoted to them alone: She’s not a career woman (insofar as she could be in the period), she’s not a socialiser or so devoted to charity she forgets it starts at home. They are her sole reason for living, and every child needs to know that their parents see them as a key component to the world to stop them from feeling alone.

3) Her advice isn’t preaching: Her daughters accuse her of nearly sermonising to them at points, but her intentions prevent this from being true. Wellbeing, peace and happiness are all that matter to Mrs March – there’s a key difference between teachers and lecturers, and she’s got it nailed.

4) She accepts all: A male going around unescorted with four females?! A young lady who wants to run away to the big city and sell her writing?! Scandal! Not in the March household – she lets things run their course, protecting yet not preventing until lessons are learned through experience rather than the aforementioned lecturing.

5) She’s brave: She loses a daughter and perseveres for the others and her grandchildren. She teaches Meg that family loyalty doesn’t always mean you’re in the right where a mother’s concerned – not always easy where family’s concerned. She faces hardships stoically in order to show her girls what a woman is capable of when she wants to protect the things she loves.

I could go on, but ironically I’d end up preaching myself. Mrs March goes right along Mrs Weasley in the motherhood hall of fame, and proves that not all books have to be centred around doting fathers who make us go ‘n’awww’.

Live Screening: ‘Othello’ @ Royal Shakespeare Theatre

In a continuation of a pioneering project, cinema screens played host to a live screening of the RSC’s 2015 production of ‘Othello’. It was a riveting version of one of Shakespeare’s most contentious pieces that eradicated the issue of race in favour of camaraderie and mental anguish.

In particular, Lucian Msamati’s Iago was something I’d never considered in such a villainous character before: a victim of his own villainy. Indeed, the emotional response to Othello’s torture when demanding the ocular proof, and his obsessive compulsive need to clean and clear after committing one of his many sins made Iago into something previously unconsidered. This was an Iago that wasn’t pure evil, hatred personified etc. This was an Iago with many sides; a betrayed husband, a hurt friend, and as mentioned before, a victim of circumstance and a lie that grew beyond him.

It was interesting that, in cast interviews before the show, Hugh Quarshie (Othello) said of Shakespeare that it isn’t the plays that keep people coming back for more, it’s the stories behind them, and you could tell director Iqbal Khan had taken this stance to heart; that it’s not the events, but the moral and themes behind them that captivate audiences across eras. This was perhaps most obvious in the rap battle – that’s right, a Shakespearean rap battle. Cassio (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd) and the army officer’s rap battle put some of the race contentions back into the play, showing how situations can go from innocent to enraging in a heartbeat – Cassio’s dismissal became less about Iago and more about the responsibilities of role and rank.

My final thought has to be on the casting of a black Iago. Suddenly, a play considered racist became about everything but race, because not only did Iago have no issue with Othello’s background, but he was part of an army that incorporated all races. It was fascinating to have this element taken out; as someone who knows a lot about Shakespeare’s works, it unsteadied my knowledge and made me sit up and pay attention to see how this reinterpretation would pan out for characters and events alike. It meant Othello was mad from jealousy, and not a victim of birth in a foreign land, and Iago felt aggrieved for his inner qualities, and not just for losing position by a foreigner’s hand.

I could mention a lot more – in particular I feel I haven’t done justice to the female leads – but this could go one forever when faced with a play full of delicate intricacies of character, subtle intonations of situations and so on. But once again, the RSC have turned a masterpiece into something more.