Jesus Christ Superstar

Oct 26 2018 | By More

★★★☆☆     Hobbled

Church Hill Theatre: Tue 23 – Sat 27 Oct 2018
Review by Thom Dibdin

There are some bright elements to the Edinburgh Gilbert and Sullivan Society’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar, which is at the Church Hill Theatre all week.

However, The Border Studio’s big clumsy, precipitous set, crammed onto the Church Hill stage, is not one of them. Certainly not without a deal of technical rehearsals, rather than the one evening which the company had to prepare.

Paul Lyall and Garry Hall. Pic: Simon Boothroyd

Paul Lyall and Garry Hall. Pic: Simon Boothroyd

Such considerations certainly excuse much of the rather tense onstage action on opening night, with dancers, lighting cues and even simple blocking all coming a cropper at one point or another. The design is great in principle – just not these dimensions on this stage.

They do not account, however, for a rather bloodless production overall which does not come to terms with Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock musical.

That said, there is plenty of oomph from the pit. MD David Lyle ensures that even when the pop-up cross is not popping up as it should (or popping up too far!) the band is vamping along to cover. His interpretation of the big rock elements of the score indicate that he knows where number 11 is, without swamping the performers on stage.

The musical tells of the final days of the life of Jesus, with Judas’ role in Jesus’ arrest and subsequent crucifixion given strong prominence. Framed in the political context of a country under martial occupation, the added weight given to the role of Judas adds strong political and philosophical heft to the story.

the story is clear

The great thing about the production is that the company is used to rippling out Gilbert’s complex patter so is able to do justice to Tim Rice’s lyrics. There is a particularly precise version of What’s The Buzz from the chorus and a gorgeous and joyous Hosanna.

This at least ensures that the turns of the story are clear, and that the political relationship of priests Caiaogas and Annas with Roman governor Pilate and King Herod are there to understand.

Cara Blaikie (left) and Garry Hall with cast. Pic: Simon Boothroyd

Cara Blaikie (left) and Garry Hall with cast. Pic: Simon Boothroyd

Less successful is their move from Sullivan’s lilting tunes to the full on-blast and rock-god falsetto of Lloyd Webber’s score. Both Jesus and Judas need dramatic rock voices, and, where necessary, to be able to let rip as if they were going head-to-head in a death-metal Battle of the Bands.

Paul Lyall does a reasonable job as Judas, voicing his doubts about Jesus getting so full of himself that he is jeopardising their ministry. His voice has the required rock attack, if not quite the full drama that would make it great.

Garry Hall’s Jesus, however, is so laid back he is practically vertical. He has a nice enough voice, but when he cranks up into the falsetto riffs there is a glaring lack of continuity.

The real problem is that you never really believe that Jesus is having existential doubts in the full knowledge that he is in the last week of his life. He maunders around the stage with Cara Blaikie as Mary Magdalene like a pair of droopy love-lorn sixth-formers.

exemplary phrasing

Director Alan Borthwick has not managed to bring out any sense of ambiguity about their relationship. Although, ironically, while Blaikie provides a lovely interpretation of Mary’s signature number, I Don’t Know How To Love Him – and her phrasing of the words is exemplary – it lacks a real passion.

Richard Tebbutt and the dancing troupe. Pic Simon Boothroyd

Richard Tebbutt and the dancing troupe. Pic: Simon Boothroyd

There is plenty of passion about the rest of the production, however. If sometimes tempered by that stage.

Pilate’s Dream is beautifully delivered by Donald Budge – with the lighting giving some inkling of what Mike Pendlowski’s lighting scheme might have been.

Richard Tebbutt really goes to town – as he should – with a properly outrageous turn as Herod. His King Herod’s Song is so close to being utterly brilliant, thanks to Peter Tomassi’s lively choreography and a well-drilled dance troupe, if only there was more space for it to play out.

Giving the political perspective, Andrew Crawford makes a very good stab at Caiaphas, although his voice range doesn’t quite get down to the bottom bass notes. Gordon Horne, however, is quite the sleekit priest as Annas in a performance that really gets the Machiavellian intrigue behind the plotting.

Not the greatest Superstar ever, but you will certainly find yourself humming the tunes for days after. And who knows, by Saturday, the company might have got that stage under control and be able to let go.

Running time: Two hours (including one interval)
Church Hill Theatre 33a Morningside Road, EH10 4DR
Tuesday 23 – Saturday 27 October 2018
Evenings: 7.30pm; Matinee, Sat: 2.30pm.
Click here to buy tickets.

EdGAS website:
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Twitter: @EdinGnS.


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Comments (3)

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  1. John Bacigalupo says:

    Why go to review a show on the first night? I found it superb last night – wonderful, energetic and emotional. The opinion of this reviewer is interesting but just their opinion. Well done G&S, a group of all ages and gabby connected performers. Voices and music superb! 🙂

  2. Mickey York says:

    a great pity Thom Dibdin didn’t review this production later in the week – it was fantastic tonight! I did wonder how the cast managed on the steeply raked central rostrum – with difficulty, I suspect.
    If the production had so many teething problems, as I understand, surely it’s a case for not opening until the Wednesday and giving not only the cast, but the hard working backstage crew, a bit more time!

    • John Mills says:

      We saw it last night (friday) too. For an amateur company i thought it was sensational. We often see EDGAS productions and this was the best I’ve ever seen. The performances by Garry Hall, Paul Lyall and Cara Blaikie were absolutely excellent