Jesus Christ Superstar

Aug 7 2016 | By More

★★★★★    Divine

Edinburgh Tabernacle (Venue 120): Aug 5-6, 8-13 2016
Review by Hugh Simpson

Tuneful, committed and utterly enthralling, Forth Children’s Theatre’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar features enough talent on and off stage to make any other Fringe productions green with envy.

Some might say Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1970 rock opera is among Lloyd Webber’s best work; others might contend that is not saying very much. Certainly its more obviously 70s aspects could well seem as remote as Pilate’s Judaea to the cast of teenagers performing it here; similarly the controversy that attended its debut has dissipated, this side of the Atlantic at least.

The Crucifixion scene. Photo: Mark Gorman

The Crucifixion scene. Photo: Mark Gorman

One element that caused comment forty years ago was the piece’s depiction of Jesus as lacking any semblance of the divine, instead presenting him as a resolutely human figure who just happened to be in the right place at the right time. This is conveyed superbly by Ronan Rafferty’s utterly convincing performance as a puzzled, vulnerable and ultimately broken Jesus, with his emotional Gethsemane a particular highlight.

Rafferty is matched in believability by Eilidh Park’s Mary Magdalene, a heartbreaking performance displaying great dramatic sense, particularly in her judicious use of power and volume in I Don’t Know How To Love Him.

The difficulty of performing a sung-through piece such as this, which in all honesty does not have a great deal of light and shade, could easily defeat many performers. This is particularly true of the role of Judas, given unusual prominence here – in many ways Superstar is more the story of Judas than it is of Jesus. There are times when Gus Harrower seems to struggle a little with the complexity of the part, but he always an interesting singer and performer, and ultimately convinces completely in displaying the character’s dilemma.

Harmony Rose Bremner and Gus Harrower. Photo: Mark Gorman

Harmony Rose Bremner and Gus Harrower. Photo: Mark Gorman

Another problem for non-professional companies is the preponderance of male roles, but here this is solved by making the priests and Pharisees female. This could be a gimmick, but it works brilliantly. Harmony Rose-Bremner and Helen Hunter inhabit the roles of Caiaphas and Annas to such an extent that it becomes difficult to imagine the characters being male again. Backed up excellently by Caitlyn Vanbeck, Laura Johnston and Sophie Williams, they add new dimensions to the parts and story, and are perhaps the most interesting performers in a uniformly impressive cast.

Another candidate would certainly be Charlie West, whose portrayal of Pilate is suitably dramatic and displays genuine stagecraft and presence. Ben King’s Simon the Zealot and Reuben Woolard’s tunefully anguished Peter are carefully judged, accomplished performances. Alex Gordon (Herod) gives an object lesson in playing a one-scene role – clever and funny without going over the top too much.

Of the principals named above, fully three-quarters are making their last appearance with FCT, which might explain the feeling that everything possible has been thrown at this production. Technically, it is on an extremely high level, with Craig Robertson’s stunning set design and Grant Anderson’s lighting meshing particularly well. Claire Stewart’s direction does not put a foot wrong, with Kerry-Anne Dougan’s musical direction bringing the best out of the singers. Katie Renton’s choreography makes particularly good use of the space and the large ensemble.

The Ensemble. Craig Robertson’s set design meshing with Grant Anderson’s lighting. Photo Mark Gorman.

The Ensemble. Craig Robertson’s set design meshing with Grant Anderson’s lighting. Photo Mark Gorman.

It is this ensemble that is particularly remarkable. The choruses are performed with an unnatural degree of drive and clarity, with the togetherness of the dancing being almost frightening. Every one of them deserves great praise – as do the backstage team that have drilled them into this state. There is no need to make any excuses about the age or experience of the cast – this is simply as good as you could ever hope to see, with the added bonus of a cast of more than 30, a size a professional production could only dream of.

It would be possible to quibble about odd problems in audibility, or missteps by the band, but these are noticeable only because they are so rare. Moreover, they are minor issues compared to the torrent of emotion and talent on display here, that sweeps away any possible objections in creating a production of real joy and magic.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes including one interval
Edinburgh Tabernacle (Venue 120), 41-43 Inverleith Gardens, EH3 5PR
Friday 5 – Sat 13 Aug 2016 (not Sun 7)
Daily: 7.30 pm; Matinees Sats: 2.30 pm
Book tickets on the EdFringe website:
Company website:

The Priests and Pharisees. Photo: Mark Gorman.

The Priests and Pharisees. Photo: Mark Gorman.


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Comments (4)

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  1. Norman Gordon says:

    Excellent show in all departments, supreme efforts by all the cast,especially considering the range of ages involved.