Review: Jesus Christ Superstar at Newcastle Theatre Royal
A vividly reimagined production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's Jesus Christ Superstar is at Newcastle Theatre Royal until Saturday 30th September
The 1970s rock score was originally released as a concert album and covers the events of the final weeks of Jesus’s life, recasting him as a musical icon with legions of fans. This particular production originated at The Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre and has since gone on to win numerous accolades.
Olivier Award-nominated Ian McIntosh gives a stunning performance as Jesus Christ, switching from the persona of a boy band icon to that of exhausted saviour and back again. A highlight of the show is his performance of ‘Gethsemane’, a masterclass in impotent rage and raw emotion. ‘Why should I die… would the things I’ve said and done matter any more?’ The audience holds its breath as at last he accepts that his fate is to die, and begs God to ‘take me, now, before I change my mind’.
Hannah Richardson is another stand-out as Mary Magdalene. With her enchanting vocals, she takes on the challenge of ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’ and really makes us believe that she is a conflicted sinner, seeing love in a new light and feeling depths of emotion she has never felt before.
Julian Clary makes an all-too-brief appearance as a crazed, queer, hilarious and imperious version of King Herod. ‘Putin meets Cleopatra with a hint of Biggins,’ is how Clary himself has described his take on the role, and there seems little need to elaborate further.
Credit must be given to director Timothy Sheader and choreographer Drew McOnie, particularly when it comes to working with the larger cast. I’ve rarely seen a more physical production. The ensemble are constantly seething and moving, with push and pull throughout. Every movement is deliberate and intense, nothing is by accident, and nobody moves across the stage without looking like they mean it – whether they’re portraying an adoring crowd worshiping pop-star Jesus (Jesus Timberlake, if you will), or a baying mob desperate for his blood, harrying the reluctant Pilate into agreeing to the crucifixion.
As Pilate, Ryan O’Donnell perfectly embodies the anger he feels when confronted with Christ’s apathy about his own fate, and his refusal to speak up and defend himself. This frustration boils to the point where Pilate is forced into agreeing to a crucifixion he clearly does not want, and O’Donnell takes the audience with him on every step of his journey to this decision.
The final scenes are affecting, and the quiet ending is unexpected but welcome after the intensity of what we’ve all experienced. I don’t think it’s possible to give spoilers for what is possibly the oldest story in the book, but with a tale that ends as this one does, it’s fitting that it does not end with a bang.