Every Easter my husband insists, sometimes successfully, that we watch Jesus Christ Superstar. This is not a religious obsession, or need to educate us all, but it’s so that we can share in what is essentially his guiltiest pleasure. My children and I indulge him. And hey, we like the odd song.
So, offered two guest pass tickets for the new spectacular at the 02, I was happy to treat the old boy. Only then did it occur to me that it is my guilty pleasure too. (Our fabulous seats on the floor also ensured we kid ourselves that it was a theatre environment rather than massive arena.)
This new version, about to tour the country, opened with riot imagery, and a mock kerfuffle by men with shields and young folk in hoodies and leather. Impressive though it was, my heart sank a little at the thought of another modern day analogy. Ooh, regard the disaffected youth looking for a leader. See that cold unfeeling leadership. It’s like The Romans and the Jews but set in a version of present day, innit.
But I got over my initial resistance. The parallels weren’t rammed home too hard. And it worked because it turns out that dreadlocks really do suit Tim Minchin. Twitching, haunting and haunted he proved within moments that he was right to covet the role of Judas. His voice was both clear and belty, and I totally felt his pain and resentment (really!) He was genuinely miffed that his ex best friend, who was once a cool guy but was now so full of himself, was hanging round with a cheap old tart. I’m not sure I ever got that before.
The music, after 42 years, is a touch dated, but the staging, from the ingenious use of projections, graphics, and bleak but sharp design did help bring it bang up to date. Even the pseudo texts and twitter feeds, #The Twelve, didn’t grate. And the tunes are very, um, tuneful.
The supporting cast deserves a mention. Brooding, sexy, misguided, funky, they danced, sang and discipled with enthusiasm and panache throughout. And Jesus? I had no emotional attachment to the rather dashing Ben Forster, but it seemed a lot of the crowd did. They whooped and cheered. And he was good (if a tad serious). To show how he wasn’t really in pain/dead/humourless he did a lot of grinning and thumbs-upping at the curtain call, so we know he was just acting.
Mel C (or Crusty Spice, as the husband was determined to label her) as Mary Magdalene was a bit irritating, but actually redeemed herself, and her less fetching dreads, by performing a stonking ‘I don’t know how to love him’. Like Judas earlier, I actually grew to understand the conflict.
A word about the baddies. Slick and grey and the only ones having any kind of a laugh, they were pitch perfect: from the high and low notes of the Council, to Alex Hanson’s cynical and charming Pontius Pilot, to the mugging red-suited having-the-best-time Chris Moyles doing King Herod as a game show host. (Text Lord or Fraud. You decide.)
After the unexpected interval – it is a theatrical piece after all – it all got a bit dour; a lot of angst, suffering and some very big notes. And poor Christ’s back all covered in blood after a vicious whipping. (There was an audible giggle when the boy was on the Cross. A bit unfair. Perhaps we were missing the jolly old Romans.)
But they all came back and deserved the standing ovation; and more rapturous applause when the man himself (not Jesus, silly, Lord Sir King Lloyd Webber) was ‘dragged’ onstage to say give his humble thanks.
No, it’s not for everyone; we did have pals who abandoned ship at half time. But as guilty pleasures go, it’s right up there. I might cancel next Easter’s screening in our household, though.
Words: Susie Innes
Next London date: Wed Oct 17 – Wembley Arena