Ecce Homo

We tried a number of times earlier in the run to get to see "The Man Jesus" with Simon Callow at the Lyric Theatre, but in fine Campton fashion, only managed to see it on the last night. Given the show is now over I won't offer any sort of comprehensive review, except to say that I enjoyed it, but was not bowled over by it. The sparse staging and lighting allowed the audience to focus on Callow's performance which offered differing perspectives on the life and death of Jesus from various men and women around him. The mission-hall-type wooden seats which Callow constantly shuffled throughout the performance were sufficient to suggest the temple clearance or the Last Supper. Callow's range of accents and characterisations were superb... his Billy Connolly-esque John the Baptist and his Ballymena Bible-belt disciple were particularly appropriate (even more so given this was Northern Ireland and the Big Yin was actually performing in the Waterfront Hall last night), and there were aspects of Matthew Hurt's script that were excellent. As a writer myself I have frequently returned to the story of Jesus from the perspective of others around and about him, so it was really interesting to have someone else's take on it. 
This was a humane, if not humanistic portrayal of Jesus, which dodged the bullet of the miracles attributed to him in the gospels... Indeed in the account of the first miracle the author turns the account in John's gospel on it's head and seems to suggest that this was an act of drunken bravado on the part of Jesus in front of his new found disciples, forbidden by his austere mother... Personally I didn't see the need for that... Not, as Terry Blain suggests in the Irish Theatre Magazine because I am a "Biblical literalist"  (which given his comments on the literary history of the gospels and the historicity of Jesus himself we can assume that he isn't) but because it doesn't fit with the trajectory of the rest of Jesus' story... If this had been the case it would have been no more embarrassing to the gospel writers and the early church than many of the other stories about him that they did include, eg. the clearing of the temple, the cursing of the fig tree, the dialogue with the Canaanite woman. Indeed huge swathes of the contemporary church finds the story as included in the gospel of John embarrassing enough, given the time, energy and words wasted on whether the wine that Jesus produced was actually alcoholic... 
Hurt was strongest in conveying a sense of the political and historical context of the story, most powerfully captured in the Callow's characterisations of Herod Antipas and Pilate. But in the end I didn't find the picture of Jesus painted to be a compelling or indeed coherent one, and indeed, found the whole thing curiously lacking in energy or passion, with the ending simply petering out... That may have been a conscious decision on the part of the writer and director Joseph Alford, as a comment on their perspective on the ministry of Jesus, but not only would I disagree with that theologically and philosophically, I also think it makes for anti-climactic theatre.
But actually, the more I think about that, they may be onto something...
Throughout the production there were points where Callow was clearly conveying the thoughts of the author, unfiltered through any of the characters, and in one of those moments, when referring to the audience's expectation of a miracle like the multiplication of bread and fish to feed 5,000, he suggests that the more amazing miracle is that down through the years, despite the reproduction of multiplication of words and churches and Christian professions, 2000 years later there is absolutely no change... He says something similar towards the end as well. it is the classic question of what difference has Jesus made to the world around us. I and others may point to the huge good done in his name through schools and hospitals and individual acts of kindness, whilst Dawkins and other atheists may point to unspeakable acts of horror also done in his name at a national and personal level. Does one balance out the other, leaving a zero sum?
Personally I don't think so, but returning to the metaphor of the miraculous and particularly that first miracle in the wedding at Cana in Galilee, the big miracle in the contemporary church is that we have turned the new wine of the gospel, with all it's powerful passion and compassion, into insipid stagnant lukewarm water...
We may celebrate the life, death and resurrection of Christ together on a Sunday, but as the curtain falls on another church service, we like Jesus' mother in the closing scene of this play, return home to the everyday, mundane existence of Monday to Saturday where we are just the same as everyone else...
Simon Callow and the author Matthew Hurt offer a vision of Jesus through the lives and words of those around him at the time...
Before we criticise that vision, perhaps we need to take a look at the vision of Jesus that we convey through our lives and words...
Ecce Homo
Selah

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