The Gospel Inquiry
3 stars ***
Assembly Rooms (Venue 20)
THERE’S NO SHORTAGE of shows on this year’s Fringe about the uses and abuses of religion; and in this short piece, first developed through the Play Pieces project in Inverness, the talented Scottish playwright and actor Sandy Nelson tries to explore the ways in which the message of Jesus might have been misreported and exaggerated – for good motives and bad – by the four gospel-makers.
The play takes the form of a public inquiry, particularly into what really happened at the famous feeding of the five thousand; the overall message – as we hear from a dignified Matthew, an outrageously camp Mark, a world-weary Luke and a militant John – seems to be that the gospels may be inaccurate and conflicting, but they represent attempts to capture a higher truth not easily conveyed through literal reportage.
The show’s problem, though – as its three actors take it in turns to play witness, judge and interrogating lawyer – is that contemporary versions of the life of Christ, particularly those with a strong element of humour, always risk looking like one-line jokes or spoofs, the stuff of a short sketch rather than a play. And despite some particularly fine work from Jimmy Chisholm as Matthew and Luke, the Gospel Inquiry often falls headlong into that trap, trying too hard to entertain, and not hard enough to find a way of dramatising the tensions around the Christian message that would compel a 21st century audience to think, rather than letting them off the hook with easy laughs.