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Royal Conservatoire of Scotland – Godspell

If there was supposed to be audience interaction during the interval of Godspell, I was too busy in the bar to sample any of what may or may not have been. The original New York production apparently had wine and bread being passed around, but ultimately it’s not hugely important in the grand scheme of things, and neither is the lack of a portrayal of the Divine Resurrection in a narrative largely based on St Matthew’s Gospel, because it goes one better than Jesus Christ Superstar. This musical makes clear that Jesus’ (Angus Bhattacharya) disciples will carry on, as it were, spreading the good news, and promoting His teachings, something which arguably still continues today.

Godspell at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, staged by the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Image credit © Robert McFadzean-RCS.
Godspell at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, staged by the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Image credit © Robert McFadzean-RCS.

The opening scene is frankly baffling, at least to me, with miscellaneous philosophers giving their strongly held opinions. They are neither seen nor heard of ever again for the rest of the show, and I suppose it can’t be removed now, having been in the show since it premiered in 1971, however superfluous it is. Oh well. And why does one of the philosophers use a Deliveroo delivery bag?

The set in this production resembles a construction site, with wire fencing and a ‘Road Closed’ sign on stage. It is, I think, left to the audience to determine whether that’s a metaphor for the spiritual / psychological / emotional work Jesus does with His followers before the inevitable ending. Ever since seeing Imagine This, which flopped in the West End in 2008, I’ve never been able to see any character on stage singing whilst being crucified without calling to mind ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ from Monty Python’s Life of Brian. I just about managed to maintain a straight face when the moment came in this show, which to be fair is portrayed with the kind of poignancy and solemnity appropriate for the occasion.

Before that, however, there’s some enthusiastic choreography to enjoy in the larger ensemble numbers, and some thought has gone into updating the script to include contemporary references. This isn’t a show for everyone, and I don’t just mean the ardent atheists who may be rather disarmed by the encouragement to love one another and accept others for who they are – ‘tolerance’ never comes into it, because people should be respected rather than merely tolerated. There’s an underlying element of silliness that permeates proceedings, and some of the lyrics are very repetitive, even by musical theatre standards.

I had the feeling theatregoers without prior knowledge of the teachings of Jesus might struggle slightly with trying to process the implications and applications of the various parables – there are, at times, several parables presented within the same extended scene, one after another. That said, the animated and engaging manner in which the parables are dramatized demonstrates how the stories are far more universal than divisive. You need not convert to any given religion to benefit from its thoughtful messages. In the end, this is a brisk and boisterous production: praise be!

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Godspell
Conceived and originally directed by John-Michael Tebelak
Music and new lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Originally produced on the New York Stage by Edgar Lansbury / Stuart Duncan / Joseph Beruh
Jesus ANGUS BHATTACHARYA
Judas RHIAN FERRIGAN
Ensemble KATHLEEN BRENNER, COLUM FINDLAY, COGGIN GALBREATH, SIERRA PHILBERT, JINGJING SUN, EMILY ROSE SUTHERLAND
Swings FEIFEI XIANG, JOHN GURDIAN

Musical Director/Keys 1 EOIN CORCORAN
Musical Director/Guitar GREGORY P. FRANZ
Bass (electric) BRODIE JARVIE / CALLUM CRONIN
Drum Kit DAVID KERR
Guitar JACK HALFORTY
Director and Choreographer ALEXANDRA SPENCER-JONES
Set and Costume Designer CLAIRE HALLERAN
Lighting Designer ROBBIE BUTLER
Sound Designer GERRIE VICTOR
Musical Supervisor DAVID HIGHAM
Vocal Support GORDON ADAMS / BILL WRIGHT
Accent and Dialect Support RACHEL NICHOLSON

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland at the Edinburgh Fringe
Assembly Rooms, Music Room, until 28 August (even days), 10:00am to 12:00pm

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