Saturday, 19 November 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (2016) - David Yates

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (2016) - David Yates


This is not a Harry Potter film.

That might seem obvious from the title, but it bears repeating. Since the release of the first book way back in 1997, the fans have grown up. Now there's a more serious, adult film that caters to them.

Yes, there are plenty of magical creatures to please little ones (even though it's a 12A film). There are cuddly critters, majestic beasts and some very strange looking insect-things, all produced with sensational CGI and effects. And the film is littered with amusing touches that add some much needed light-hearted humour.

But there's a dark underbelly here. This isn't a film about a children's school, with loveable teachers and lessons (both literal and philosophical) to be learnt. This is a film about child abuse. About racism. And very dark magic.

Set in America in the 1920s, we follow Newt Scamander (a jittery, awkward Eddie Redmayne with an irritating pout), a wizard with a very special briefcase full of magical creatures. A mix up leads to these creatures being released into the city and what follows is a Ghostbusters style rescue mission.

Yet this America, much like today, is rife with hate. Wizards live undercover and fear revealing their world to the No-Majs (the American equivalent to Muggles); the No-Majs hunt the wizards (not unlike the Salem witch trials); the wizards have banned magical creatures through lack of understanding; and they even hate themselves. The plot hinges on an obvious parallel to gay conversion therapy - when wizards attempt to suppress their powers instead of being true to themselves, it festers into powerful dark magic that wrecks havoc. Freud would have a field day.

And that's on top of the obvious ecological message of caring for the environment and endangered species. Like Newt's briefcase, the film is stuffed to bursting point with layered meaning and sociological themes - it's just not very subtle about it.

Thankfully, Fantastic Beasts remains a throughly enjoyable watch that allows us to view Rowling's universe from a very different perspective. There's wizards, magic, wands, creatures and a Magical Congress, but its real world setting of New York is a long way from the beloved fantasy school. The sets and costumes are stunningly created, but the cinematography has a washed out feel as if we're watching history - fitting considering the film is based on a school text book. With its seedy underground, corrupt governments, stark lighting and heavy air of mystery, it has the air of a noir thriller, but filled with colourful characters - Rowling's Robert Galbraith books meets Potter. The creatures have far more personality than the mostly likeable leads, though Colin Farrell makes a gruff Auror as Percival Graves and Ezra Miller is disturbing as Credence Barebone. Dan Fogler's No-Maj Jacob Kowalski steals the film though, not only as our portal into this magical world, but providing most of the film's laughs.

Somehow Rowling and director David Yates have achieved the impossible, by making a film for everyone: fans and newcomers, young and old. The plot may be predictable and ultimately a little cheesy whilst setting up the inevitable sequels, but its irresistible concoction of warm storytelling and delectable darkness make this film's magic undeniable.

4/5

Watch: Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them is out now.


Saturday, 12 November 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child @ The Palace Theatre

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child @ The Palace Theatre

Anyone who follows JK Rowling on Twitter will be aware of her political views. She is a champion of the outsider, a notion that threads its way through her Harry Potter novels. Her unlikely heroes may be magical, but they're not only outsiders to our real world, they're considered freaks in their own: from Hermione's "mudblood" roots, to the working class Weasleys, the triumph of the meek Neville Longbottom, and of course Harry and his miraculous scar.

That notion is as true as ever in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a play that is considered the eighth story in the series. Here, outsiders are literally known as "spares", periphery characters who unexpectedly have the power to change their fate. Without spoiling anything, the narrative revolves around time travel, which allows Rowling and co-writer Jack Thorne to retrace key plot points from the series seen from a new angle. It's incredibly clever and works in multiple ways: as a reminder of the past, as a nostalgic device, and a way to add new layers to an existing story. It feels like a credible story within Rowling's world and a part of the main canon, not just a tacked on story for financial gain.

Yet the spell doesn't quite last. Much has already been said about the decision to split the play into two parts and, really, it's unnecessary. Whilst it allows fans to revel in the world for that bit longer, the narrative's plausibility feels stretched. There are plot holes in abundance, characters are either dropped or mentioned but never seen, and the twist in Part Two on which it all rests upon is predictable and (for this fan at least) unrealistic. At this point it starts to feel a little forced. Perhaps Rowling should learn from these characters and know that playing with time gets very, very messy.

It's not all about time travel though. There's a continuation here of the series' main theme of conquering death: here it's about accepting death as part of fate and that tampering with the past has dire consequences. The real story, though, is between Harry (Jamie Parker) and his second son Albus (Sam Clemmett). There's a disconnect between them, Harry struggling to deal with fatherhood and Albus unable to live up to both his father's legacy and his expectations. The plot therefore encapsulates teenage angst better than the books did and however much it loses its way, this father-son story is told with warmth and sincerity and is the real heart of the show.

The plot of Cursed Child, then, is true to the books in the best and the worst way. It's clever and imaginative, it's a little flawed, and it's not always brilliantly written. There are cheesy one-liners and cheap laughs for the audience that crucially break the magic, but these moments are forgivable in the grand scheme of things.

Really, the magic of Cursed Child comes from the production and John Tiffany's direction. What's so special here is the restraint. The show is undoubtedly a spectacle, but it's often done through minimal staging that leaves much to the imagination. In that sense, it's truer to the books than the films could ever be - there's no CGI effects here, just the magic of live theatre. From the genius use of moving staircases and old suitcases to represent sets, to the subtle changes of lighting, and the authentic costumes, this is literally the world of Potter in your mind come to life.

Special mention must go to Steven Hoggett's movement direction. Each scene change is carefully choreographed with swooshes of capes as new scenes materialise before our eyes. And the dance sequences, whilst perhaps a little eccentric, add sparkle and flair. The magical effects are at times astounding, even though regular theatre-goers are sure to see the mechanics. Ignore the use of shadows and people, and a little suspension of disbelief goes a long way.

It's all soundtracked by a score from popstar Imogen Heap, arranged by Martin Lowe. Whilst the music itself is beautiful - full of lush chorales and glittering electronics - it sometimes feels too anachronistic to the look and feel of the play, a modern touch in a world otherwise steeped in tradition. The music is also mostly reworkings of Heap's existing songs, which is a disappointment, even if it mirrors the narrative's retelling of familiar ideas.

As for the cast, their performances certainly reflect the personalities of the books. Noma Dumezweni is a brilliantly bossy Hermione, Paul Thornley is an amusing (if underused) Ron, and Jamie Parker leads the cast as a slightly temperamental Harry. It really is the old gang back in action, just now a little older and wiser. Plus, the time-travelling story allows for some fun changes - a rebellious Hermione was particularly enjoyable. Other characters (no spoilers) make a return, whilst the new characters slot nicely into the story - the pairing of Anthony Boyle's Scorpius Malfoy and Sam Clemmett's Albus Potter have obvious character traits, but they have great chemistry on-stage.

Through the story of Cursed Child, Albus learns that your heroes aren't invincible - especially when it's your dad. Likewise, fans will learn that Rowling too isn't invincible. In the words of Dumbledore himself, "Perfection is beyond the reach of humankind, beyond the reach of magic". From a theatrical point of view, Cursed Child is a wonderful spectacle with some narrative flaws that remains one of the most exciting experiences on London's West End. But from a fan point of view, this is literally Harry Potter on stage. That, in itself, is an almost perfect dream.

5/5

Watch: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child runs at the Palace Theatre until December 2017.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child @ The Palace Theatre


Henry I @ St James Church, Reading

I visited the St James Church, Reading, to interview Hal Chambers, director of Henry I, a new play from theatre company Reading Between The Lines.

Here's a video, created solely on mobile, of the interview...


Monday, 7 November 2016

The Last Five Years @ St James Theatre

The Last Five Years @ St James Theatre

Jason Robert Brown's The Last Five Years remains relatively unknown to mainstream theatregoers in the UK, so this production at the St James Theatre in Victoria, featuring a well known cast and directed by the man himself no less, is simply a theatrical treat.

This is the definitive production of the musical, with its clever narrative that depicts the relationship between an author and an actress in opposite directions through time. The direction is full of clever touches that reflect the subtle mirror imagery littered throughout as the show's beginning and end connect in circular fashion.

Really, it's a production of simplicity. The minimal set and clear staging allow the actors and the music to take the fore through lucid storytelling - as cliché as that sounds.

And what storytelling! The temporal structure may be abstract, but the raw emotion and intelligent writing are beautiful. There's ambiguity in the characterisation that allows the audience to consider the opposing views of each, even if the climax leans a little too heavily on victim and villain roles. Jamie and Cathy are two flawed humans whose relationship is unbearably tragic and loaded with dramatic irony.

Equally, it's a show about the pressures of career - specifically those in the arts - and how personal gains must be balanced with love. Does struggling in your career mean you lean too heavily on a loved one? Does success make you neglect your partner and take them for granted?

The score, with its delicate string arrangements and amusing Jewish inflections, utterly encapsulates the harmony, discord and rhythms of human relationships. Together with the fluctuating narrative, we feel every moment of pain and joy, the show not only an insular mirror but reflecting our own experiences and insecurities.

That also comes through the outstanding cast. Jonathan Bailey's Jamie offers rich storytelling in each number, whether literally, in diffusing an argument, or grappling with guilt and shame. He is full of such charm and warmth that we can't help but fall for him, tragically, just as Cathy does.

Samantha Banks is the more vocally capable of the two as Cathy, making it all seem so effortless. It's a well-rounded performance that begins gently mournful and broken but soon finds power, with comedy audition songs and flirtation, and ends with wide-eyed innocence that, in hindsight, cuts deep.

This production isn't quite perfect. There are vocal cracks, a lack of polish between the singers and the band, and the sliding set feels clunky. But none of that detracts from the arresting relationship that's laid bare on stage and will consume you for 90 minutes. This is theatre that's moving to the very core.

4/5

Watch: The Last Five Years runs at the St James Theatre until 26th November.

The Last Five Years @ St James Theatre

The Last Five Years @ St James Theatre
Photos: Scott Rylander

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Side Show @ Southwark Playhouse

Side Show @ Southwark Playhouse

For the most part, Side Show feels all too familiar. And that's pretty ironic for a musical that celebrates difference.

Originally performed on Broadway in 1997, its book and lyrics are written by Bill Russell who uses the backdrop of a freak show to preach about the triumph of the outsider, acceptance and sisterhood. It's based on the lives of Daisy and Violet Hilton, conjoined twins who became notable performers back in the 1930s. Picked up by a talent scout and a fellow performer whose motives remain shady until the end, the girls' delicate naivety is forever exploited but never quite for their own gain. You can take the girls out of the side show, but you can't take the side show out of the girls.

Thematically, the show is unoriginal and does nothing unexpected, instead following the usual rules of musical theatre in a fantasy where everything works out for the best. Even the sisters ultimately find solace in one another. The only character to truly lose out is their protector Jake who develops feelings for Violet, but fitting with the period, interracial love is one freak too far.

The score, from Dreamgirls composer Henry Krieger, is also familiar, mostly delivering a series of shuffling, derivative show tunes. That said, the tension of the second act allows his writing to flourish with dramatic ballads and beautifully soaring melodies. It might not reach the highs of "And I Am Telling You", but the sisters' climactic "I Will Never Leave You" is a triumph.

It's all typical stuff that's been done plenty of times before in other musicals. Yet it's delivered with such polish that it's hard not to fall for the show's charm.

Fans of Wicked will recognise Louise Dearman (Daisy), whilst Laura Pitt-Pulford (Violet) has notably performed in musicals across the country. Their faces may be familiar, but to miss them in action would be foolish - they sing wonderfully with voices that necessarily blend sumptuously. They also do well to create distinct characters despite being perpetually joined: the headstrong, rebellious Daisy hungry for fame and the sensible, reserved Violet who melts in the face of love.

The supporting cast are also excellent, performing enjoyable choreography from Matthew Cole whilst in glamorous period costumes. And Dan Samson's sound design succeeds where others have failed in this venue, delivering great balance between singers and orchestra.

Too often the actors play to the front of the thrust stage, neglecting those in the side seats who also miss out on seeing the glorious set from designer takis whose seemingly floating bulbs shimmer against steampunk metallics. On the whole, though, director Hannah Chissick has provided the Southwark Playhouse with another successful UK revival of a little known musical. Yet in doing so, Side Show is exposed as more conventional than its cast of freaks would have you believe.

3/5

Watch: Side Show runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 3rd December.

Side Show @ Southwark Playhouse

Side Show @ Southwark Playhouse

Side Show @ Southwark Playhouse
Photos: Pamela Raith

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Hotel For Criminals @ New Wimbledon Studio

Hotel For Criminals New Wimbledon Theatre

Director Patrick Kennedy has been working consistently with American composer Stanley Silverman to bring the weird and wonderful world of Silverman and writer Richard Foreman's theatrical works to the UK. Hotel for Criminals is no exception.

As Kennedy notes, this is by no means a traditional musical. The loose story of a journalist investigating a French criminal known as Fantomas is told abstractly through short scenes, a deadpan script and art songs that (whether individually or together) make little to no sense. A voiceover attempts to provide some structure, whilst an alarm rings in each scene change, but it's not enough to really allow the audience to grasp the narrative.

Yet this also serves to unsettle and unnerve the audience, the varying scenes quietly humorous in their absurdity. The production is stylistically brave, with actors moving robotically around the stage and delivering their lines through masks and heavy make-up like possessed puppets. It's a mix of Tim Burton meets 20th century expressionism: frightening, humorous and fascinatingly weird.

Silverman's score follows suit, with rich vocal harmonies and elegant melodies dappled amongst chromatic recitative and horror film discordance. There are influences of Debussy, operetta and American show tunes that together create a distinctive sound world with a disjointedness befitting the fractured narrative.

These tunes are sung wonderfully by a talented cast with fixed, almost cartoonish, expressions. Alistair Frederick offers a piercing tenor as Max; Madelaine Jennings's soprano is well-suited to the innocent Helene; and Kate Baxter is terrifying as the vampiric Irma Vep.

Hotel for Criminals is frustratingly obtuse, but there's a macabre allure in its phantasmagorical atmosphere.

3/5

Watch: Hotel for Criminals runs at the New Wimbledon Studio until 29th October.


Friday, 23 September 2016

AlunaGeorge - I Remember

AlunaGeorge - I Remember

For the London duo’s second album, the follow up to 2013’s ‘Body Music’, Aluna Francis and George Reid have collaborated with a number of other artists. This may suggest uncertainty and a lack of confidence in their core sound, but it also shows a willingness to experiment and develop.

In actuality, ‘I Remember’ falls further along the latter end of the spectrum. It’s clear that certain collaborators have had a large impact, yet this remains an AlunaGeorge album through and through, even if it’s not a huge step on from their debut.

Take the album’s title track. Produced by Flume, it inescapably bears the mark of the Australian producer with its choppy, fragmented synth samples and metallic, spectral sound. I Remember could easily be an outtake from his own album, ‘Skin’, released earlier this year. Yet Francis’s vocals add a soulful warmth that complements the production, whilst the R&B rhythms hark back to the duo’s debut. It is, in short, a perfect collaboration.

Other singles, I’m In Control feat. Popcaan and Mean What I Mean feat. Leikeli47 and Dreezy, reveal an influence of Jamaican dancehall and US hip-hop that have permeated the rest of the album. The former track is an utterly infectious pop-dance track that deserves every success. The latter merely follows in its footsteps.

Elsewhere, the tracks alternate between minimalist electronics and buoyant dancehall pop, with Francis’s vocals gently caressing every glittering synth and processed beat. Not all make an impact, but standout tracks include atmospheric opener Full Swing feat. Pell, the heavily computerised drums of My Blood feat. ZHU that contrast with the live instruments of the shimmering Mediator, and the bubbling, neon stabs of closer Wanderlust.

In the process, AlunaGeorge have created an album that’s tighter in focus, yet sonically more experimental than its lengthy predecessor, with more confident pop melodies juxtaposed with spectral production. It wears its influences and its origins on equal sleeves. With a sound that was fresh to begin with, the inclusion of wider artists has resulted in a very tempting pop package.

4/5

Gizzle’s Choice:
* Full Swing
* I Remember
* Wanderlust

Listen: ‘I Remember’ is out now.



Thursday, 15 September 2016

27 @ The Cockpit Theatre

27 @ The Cockpit Theatre

The 27 club is pretty exclusive. It includes the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain and most recently Amy Winehouse – all musicians who died at the age of 27 from substance abuse or violence. For most, the age is just a coincidence, but it’s also led to plenty of conspiracy theories.

27 attempts to create its own theory. It’s an homage to these artists but based around a fictional rock band – The Argonauts – whose lead singer Orpheus makes a pact with the devil in return for fame and fortune.

Of course, that devil is a music exec with a demonic team of assistants who drive Orpheus – already addicted to drugs – to self-destruction. If the musical is meant as a comment on the music industry, it’s a lazy one. It’s all too easy to blame record labels for not supporting their artists. Yet here the band are also given an outdated sense of style: their ‘makeover’ transforms them from everyday lads to an 80s hair metal pastiche, complete with Guns and Roses t-shirt, long hair and skin-tight jeans. And that’s after the band bicker about trying too hard to be cool. The industry moved on from this shtick years ago.

That sense of cool is just one of many problems with 27. Another fundamental flaw is the lack of stage time for the band. We’re meant to believe they’re the greatest band of their generation off the back of dialogue rather than actually witnessing their performances first hand - there's a drummer who never drums, a guitarist who never strums, and a singer who's forever glum. The plot whips through a four year career in a matter of seconds and expects us to jump with them, but writer Sam Cassidy has set himself up to fail.

Then there’s the utterly contrived and predictable nature of the plot. And that’s not just from the title and its conspiracies, but from the abysmal Greek myth parallels shoe-horned in. What starts off as simply character names in the first act turns into a full fantasy in the second as Orpheus must travel through the Underworld to literally face his demons (demonic versions of the first act’s characters) and save his girlfriend, defying the witchy diva fates (led by Jodie Jacobs) and a charismatic Hades (Ryan Molloy). We knew Orpheus would die from before we even entered the theatre. Incidentally, the girlfriend's death by substance abuse is also easily predicted considering her name is Amy. It’s all utterly contrite.

At times, though, it’s actually quite enjoyable. In these fantastical moments, the show becomes tongue in cheek and the often dire script amuses for the right reasons. What’s more, the highly energetic choreography from Arlene Phillips is exciting to watch and the blinding, strobing lights make us all feel like we’re part of a music video. Matt Wills’s score also has its moments, offering catchy (if derivative) pop songs accompanied by screaming guitars.

Yet the show is on the whole stylistically confused. Amongst all this fantastical rubbish, it’s actually trying to tell a touching and emotional story of drug abuse and psychological demons. At times it even succeeds: Greg Oliver delivers a powerful song at the start of the second act as Orpheus’s life slips through his fingers. And Cassie Compton rises above the material with her performance as Amy, offering a stunning vocal even if her reasons for loving Orpheus are nowhere to be seen. But these moments cannot coexist alongside the fantasy without being laughably undermined.

What’s more, with its attempts at poignancy in the finale, 27 seems to suggest that the real-life artists are remembered, celebrated and eulogised because of their deaths rather than their music. It wallows in tragedy and misery whilst ignoring the spectacular talent these artists brought to the world. In the process, it spectacularly misses the point.

2/5

Watch: 27 runs at the Cockpit Theatre until October 22nd.

27 @ The Cockpit Theatre

27 @ The Cockpit Theatre

27 @ The Cockpit Theatre
Photos: Nick Ross

Monday, 12 September 2016

Britten in Brooklyn @ Wilton's Music Hall

Britten in Brooklyn @ Wilton's Music Hall

We know Benjamin Britten as a quintessentially English composer, with some of his best known works including an opera based in his hometown (Peter Grimes) and a Shakespeare adaptation (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), but he spent a number of years during WWII on the other side of the Atlantic. It’s this period of his life that writer Zoe Lewis has focused on in her play Britten in Brooklyn, receiving its world premiere at Wilton’s Music Hall.

Here we have Britten living in New York alongside WH Auden, Carson McCullers and Gypsy Rose Lee, living bohemian-style in a cramped, dilapidated apartment filled with artistic knick-knacks. Think La Bohème, or even Rent, but with more philosophy. Art plays a central role in the play, as all four characters are at differing stages of their careers. Should art be an expression of the mind, or produced for commercial gains? How can inspiration overcome writer’s block? And how does the war stifle or generate creativity?

Mostly, though, it’s a play about guilt: the guilt Britten feels about his sexuality, about the death of his mother and how he was unable to be totally honest with her. This parallels a guilt towards his country. Britten left England for a number of reasons, but primarily it was to escape the war. Soon the war catches up with him.

It’s clear, then, that Lewis has weaved a complex web of themes within the play. As a result, it lacks focus, tension and drama. The first act especially revolves around the artistic philosophies of the central quartet that borders on pretentious. Only in the second act, once Britten is called to return to his country for the war effort, do we gain clarity in the real intentions of the play. Yet with so much psychological turmoil, Lewis and director Oli Rose are unable to make the internal drama palpable for the audience.

The acting, too, is a mixed bag. Ryan Sampson offers an honest and emotional performance as Britten, able to remain the focus of the play despite the character being encumbered by themes and overpowered by the other, more quirky characters. And Ruby Bentall’s offbeat, sarcastic humour as McCullers amuses as much as it paints her in a tragic light. Yet Sadie Frost overacts as Gypsy Rose Lee, her girlish, flirtatious act lacking charm.

Britten in Brooklyn delves into a lesser-known time in Britten’s life. Greater use of his music and a tighter focus could have made this an exciting prospect, but as it stands it’s an interesting piece with lofty intentions it never quite reaches.

3/5

Watch: Britten in Brooklyn runs at Wilton's Musical Hall until 17th September.

Britten in Brooklyn @ Wilton's Music Hall

Britten in Brooklyn @ Wilton's Music Hall
Photos: Marc Brenner

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Jesus Christ Superstar @ Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

Jesus Christ Superstar @ Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

Prior to its 1971 Broadway debut, rock-opera  Jesus Christ Superstar began life as a concept album. Forty-five years later, this new production directed by Timothy Sheader at the magical Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre fully embraces the history of the show – for better and for worse.

Visually, the show is a stunner, designer Tom Scutt’s set dominated by a huge cross on the floor and rusting scaffolding housing the visible band. Yet it’s the use of rock and music symbolism that really sets it apart. The actors mostly sing with handheld mics, wires trailing across the floor. Mic stands are used as staffs and spears. Judas eventually, literally, hangs up his mic in suicide. Jesus is often seen carrying an acoustic guitar. And with the crucifixion, he is tied up in mic cables before being raised up on a speaker stand. It’s a suitably visceral climax of throbbing lights, soaring guitars, powerfully expressive choreography (from Drew McOnie) and clever use of glitter.

The production also goes against the colourful hippy vibe of the film version. Here the monochromatic colour scheme depicts a gritty, realistic and cult-like group of disciples, which emphasises the narrative’s attempts to portray the human side of Jesus – there’s no resurrection, leaving us to ponder the true meaning of his death. It’s a dazzling, modern take on the show, even if the score is showing its age.

Yet there are issues with the show itself that this production doesn’t quite overcome. Predominantly, that’s a lack of a clear narrative owing to the lack of dialogue, which explores the bible story in abstract fashion. For some it’s an intriguing concept show, for others it’s a load of 70s hippy nonsense. And whilst we all know Lloyd Webber can write a tune, the through-sung nature of this show leads to short, staccato, recitative-like melodies and overuse of repetition that lacks flow. Alongside the clash of 70s genres, from glam-rock to gospel and folk, it doesn’t quite mesh together cohesively.

Sheader’s production doesn’t help itself. The design and costume scheme might be striking, but it’s too often unclear who specific characters are, making the loose narrative even more difficult to follow. And the singers aim for more of a pop-rock sound than musical theatre, which would sound ideal on a cast recording but their voices don’t translate to the stage. For instance, as Mary, Anoushka Lucas has a beautifully gentle, lilting voice but the role itself is bland and Lucas’ performance lacks distinction on the big stage. By contrast, David Thaxton’s Pilate feels like an overblown pantomime villain.

More so, the production is let down by Declan Bennett’s inadequate diction and power as Jesus. His mumbled rendition of “Gethsemane”, a key moment of the show, is sung whilst he plays guitar in a nod to his previous role in Once – a decision that not only constricts his movement but his emotions too. When he does eventually burst free, he throws down the guitar and kicks the mic stand like a petulant teenager, later thrashing around on the cross as if possessed. His depiction of Jesus has neither the poised calm of Christ, nor the superstar charisma to be a believable leader of this cult.  

Thank Jesus, then, for Judas. Both the show and this production work best when Jesus is forgotten and instead we focus on his betrayer. Really, this is the story of his downfall and conflicting emotions as he wrestles with his (somewhat homoerotic) feelings for Jesus. It’s the deepest, most fascinating role with the best songs and is sung exceptionally by Tyrone Huntley, his vocals successfully blending rich soul and piercing rock with the conviction Lloyd Webber clearly intended. Jesus may have been the saving grace of humanity, but here it’s Judas who’s the real superstar of this spectacular, if inconsistent, production.

3/5

Watch: Jesus Christ Superstar runs at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre until 27th August.