A minimal set from Elizabeth Hunt and simple but effective lighting set the mood of this production well. Jesus’s entourage was clad in blue jeans and white t-shirts, contrasting well with the priests, a vampiric band in red and black, complete with a Caiaphas (a stand-out performance by Clara Le Gargasson) reminiscent of Siouxsie Sioux. In the end, this works well in Robinson’s red brick temple.
Thankfully, the human tragedy at play is emphasised over the biblical story. A conflicted, pill-popping Judas (James Martin) in leather jacket could have been heavy-handed, but the balance is right and, save for his being sabotaged by mic issues, commendable.
The production is driven by Jamie Ewing’s sterling interpretation of Jesus. Managing to navigate both vocals and performance, his Jesus is the perfect, very human, martyr, both vulnerable and noble, dominating every one of his scenes.
However, one cannot help but be pervaded with the feeling that the cast is broadly divided into those who favour acting and those who emphasise the singing. As a result, during certain ensemble scenes, eyes are often drawn to those members who genuinely react well to the stimuli, notably Claudia Bisutti and Beth Soman, while others could have been injected with some purpose. Katie Hook’s Mary Magdalene, disappointingly costumed, is one such person. While her vocals are splendid, beautiful and without any needless embellishment, her movements around the stage look uncertain and could have benefited from stronger direction. Her rendition of ‘I don’t know how to love him’ is effective, in turns sweet and sad, but the quiet passion and heartbreak of a woman in unrequited love doesn’t permeate her charming exterior.
The direction is, at first, unimaginative – ideas are half-played out and the staging is lazy. An example of this is the decision to suggest a Cambridge setting in the first minute, then promptly drop it for the rest of the performance, probably with good reason, the question being as to why it was ever considered in the first place!
Nonetheless, from ‘This Jesus must die’ – a delightfully dark and comic entrevue between priests – onwards, things start to pick up. A rendition of ‘Could we start again please?’ is superbly sung, hitting a raw nerve but likewise an echo of hope. The titular song, ‘Superstar’ is played very well by the whole cast. However, the true highlight of the play is the ‘Trial Before Pilate’ – here, the staging and lighting are highly effective, as is the chorus, stamping and writhing, trapped behind a metal fence.
The performances are energetic, the vocals good and, if the dancing is messy, it doesn’t matter within the framework of a highly entertaining production. It isn’t perfect, but well-worth making one’s way to Robinson for.