JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE MAN JESUS at Dundee Rep, for The Scotsman, 27.9.14.
4 stars ****
THERE HAVE BEEN countless reinterpretations of the life of Jesus over the last half-century, ranging from Jesus Christ Superstar to Mel Gibson’s Passion. I can’t recall a version, though, more quietly, insistently and disturbingly political than Matthew Hurt’s The Man Jesus, performed by the great Simon Callow in this bold and breathtaking solo show, now on tour around Britain; it was downright unsettling – in Dundee, just a week after Scotland’s referendum – to watch a version of the life that dwells so searchingly on Jesus’s uneasy relationship with the politics of national liberation that gripped Palestine 2000 years ago.
Also seen this week in Musselburgh, Joseph Alford’s powerful production is set on a stage bare apart from a pile of wooden chairs; Callow appears dressed in trousers and jacket, with an open-necked shirt. As soon as he speaks, though, it’s clear that this is no ordinary perspective on the story. The first voice we hear is that of a young, pregnant Mary, walking on the roads around Nazareth, trying not to look at the bodies of the young “terrorists” crucified along the roadside; her child, son of God or not, is also a child of rape. Over two riveting hours, we also meet John the Baptist, Judas, Simon Peter, Herod, Pontius Pilate, and a myriad of others; every accent in the British Isles gets an airing, to varied effect.
In the end, though, we understand this; that we are watching the story of a people – poor people, ordinary people – searching for earthly leadership and empowerment in hard times, and finally being offered something quite other. It’s a tough message; but this brilliant version of the life of Christ meets that complexity face to face, and leaves us to ponder it, for ourselves.