Rock on Jesus


Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) and Tim Rice (lyrics) reached their apogee of creative excellence with Jesus Christ Superstar (Barbican), personally speaking. What began as a concept album quickly became one of the great rock operas following a Broadway debut in 1971. Timothy Sheader’s production started out in the atmospheric Regents Park Open Air Theatre in 2016, where I first encountered it. I was blown away by its thrilling and dramatic impact with the elements contributing considerably to the drama. It remains wonderful entertainment, if a little constrained in its new concrete home.

The stage is strewn with microphones emphasising the rock concert feel while Jesus and others carrying guitars as instruments of pleasure that are also used to symbolise their resistance to Rome. Drew McOnie’s choreography gives the show waves of hypnotising movement, and in the blink of an eye the cast transform from adoring devotees to death demanding mob. Tim Scutt’s evocative set is dominated by a brightly lit platform in the shape of a giant cross, upon which a petulant Pilate (Matt Cardle) and over-the-top Herod (Samuel Buttery) torment the messiah, while the disciples and their leader humorously recreate the famous last supper pose in Da Vinci’s painting. Here to Jesus is crucified.

The eclectic vocal qualities of the lead characters contrast and compliment. The most impressive is Ricardo Alfonso as the tortured Judas, superb quality and very gutsy. Robert Tripolino is a more phlegmatic Jesus, a fine voice with lots of pathos. However, I wish he had dispensed with the guitar when singing Gethsemane, a fantastic and moving song that needs to be delivered directly to the audience. The voice that draws you in is Sallay Garnett’s Mary Magdalene. When she sings I Don’t Know How to Love Him, the sound is rich and soulful with a melancholic quality.

With gold and silver adding glitter to proceedings, colours used to depict abundance, punishment and betrayal, the gig receives its final blessing. With a stonking score and epigrammatic lyrics, fifty years on this Jesus still rocks.

Meanwhile Sotira Kyriakides is stunned…

The stage names of each of the seven Illusionists (Shaftesbury Theatre) attest to the amazing variety of skills they possess, making the show a dazzling, unforgettable experience. Chris Cox (aka as The Mentalist), a self-confessed nerd who epitomises the motto that we should never judge by appearances. Jonathan Goodwin (aka The Daredevil) is the Houdini of the bunch and has you on the edge of your seat. Korean Yu Ho-Jin, (aka The Manipulator), provides a gentle, enchanting contrast demonstrating amazing dexterity with a pack of cards, whilst James More (aka The Showman) will leave you thinking that his title is well-deserved. Enzo Wayne (aka The Unforgettable) is just that, with his disappearing tricks taking your breath away. Holding it all together with humour and panache is Paul Dabek (aka The Trickster), who is a hilarious compere and impressive illusionist in his own right. Whatever you do, don’t miss this stunner of a show!

And Cholla Siderou lives the dream…

What a gorgeous experience all round at the Regents Park Open Air Theatre for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A dreamy setting for a superb production directed by Dominic Hill who says he was inspired by the painting, ‘The Nightmare’. He gives us a gothic interpretation that starts out in a modern nightclub and then moves into a fantastical world with incredibly creepy fairies, a nightmarish experience that is also hilarious. Rachael Canning’s design is very clever and transforms from fun to foreboding. Puck is especially horrible, a bit like Chuckie that ventriloquist puppet of horror movie fame and Myra McFadyen’s portrayal is superb, part prankster and then horridly malignant. The entire cast deliver and I was impressed by Susan Wokoma, a total hoot as Bottom, and Joshua Miles as a forgetful Flute. A wonderful dream!

Finally Stellou Embellou applauds a brave effort…

Summer Rolls (Park Theatre) was the first British Vietnamese play to be performed in the UK. It traced the roots of how a family arrived, past secrets and adapting to the new world in which the refugees found themselves. Then bi-lingual performances added authenticity to the production but it rarely lifted out of the obvious surface trauma and the performers struggled to create the drama required for such a compelling migrant tale. The most interesting element came when the daughter, Mai, revealed her love for a black man and suddenly we were thrust into the world of inter-ethnic racism. Overall a very laudable play and hopefully this first will not be the last.


Jesus Christ Superstar – 020 7638 8891

The Illusionists – 020 7379 5399

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – 0333 400 3562

Summer Rolls – run complete

Barney Efthimiou

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