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The Gospel according to Berkoff

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first_imgStephen Berkoff’s Messiah: Scenes from a Crucifixion claims to be outré, obscene and blasphemous, which at times it certainly is. Lines like Jesus’s “Whatever happens, don’t let them break my legs or I’m really fucked” are proof positive that this is a piece of work is aimed at shocking an audience, conditioned, believers and heathens alike, to the conventional ramblings of Christian doctrine. Mel Gibson’s The Passion of The Christ was as controversial as Playdays compared to this reading of history’s most notorious homicide. The gospel according to Berkoff goes as follows: Jesus is a man intent on fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament, but understands that “The Messiah will never come, so we have to create one.” This requires feigning his own gory demise only to “rise” again three days later, thus providing the credulous with a presaged redeemer of mankind. The establishment of a hero-cult is certified when it goes wrong and Jesus dies, but the disciples stick to their conspiratorial story and a religion is born. This is, at times, literary masturbation of the basest variety, more jerk-off than Berkoff. Some of the dialogue is simply dreadful. The man who sees himself as the saviour of British theatre, Berkoff should adopt a mantra: “I am not the Messiah” might be a good place to start. Yet the indulgences of a writer must not be blamed on those attempting to perform, and so Scenes from a Crucifixion is redeemed by the verve of the acting and intelligent use of space, exploiting the full gallery recesses of the OFS. The excellent Kerry Norman as JC is a zealous, Machiavellian politician pre-execution, but struggles a little on “The big ‘x’” (who said being crucified was easy?). His performance is supported by a chorus which has the suppleness to portray Jewish clerics, disciples and Roman soldiers with equal proficiency. Also to savour are the muscular histrionics of a Judas who looks like he spent his thirty pieces of silver on Creatine, and Tom Richards’ appearance as an extraordinary, lascivious Caiaphas. The portrayal of Satan is so hackneyed (red shirt, “menacing” cockney accent, forked stubble) that the only surprises are the absence of attendant familiars and pronged tail. Having said this, Tai Shan Ling, as the dark one, is fabulously energetic and seductively, malevolently lucid, in another arresting performance from one of Oxford’s premier players. I wouldn’t sell my soul to Beelzebub to see this, but if you resist the temptation to see only Berkoff’s mediocrity in Lisa Maule’s production, you should be repaid with a decent enough evening.ARCHIVE: 6th week TT 2004last_img read more