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Live Theatre is Back: Reviewing Jesus Christ Superstar, Regents Park Open Air Theatre

Friday, 21 August 2020

Live theatre is back, and better than ever in a way that keeps everyone, both audience and performers alike, safe. It’s an understatement to say the theatre scene has taken an impact from Covid-19, but Regent’s Park open announcing a short 6 week run of their award winning production Jesus Christ Superstar appeared to be an almost beacon of hope in the darkness and confusion we are all currently feeling.

Despite being the same venue I visited last year, when I was fortunate enough to see Evita, the outdoor theatre almost feels like a completely different place. With temperature checks in the queue, and a one-way system around the outdoor bar area, it is clear to see that the venue has gone above and beyond to ensure public safety at all performances. ‘Seating bubbles’ in the auditorium limit the contact between members of the public, bringing the audience size down to less than a third of what would normally be permitted at the venue. Masks are asked to be worn at all times by those who are not exempt, allowing a glimpse over how the theatre can possibly return. (When it isn’t raining at least..)

The tiered step staging, re-used from Evita last year

The distancing is continued to be felt on the stage, the measures working both as a safety precaution for the actors and a tool to convey the story. Emerging onto the stage following an eerie electric guitar overture, the cast pull down face coverings immersing them in a Jerusalem that mirrors the audience. Carefully distanced choreography only works to intensify the isolation felt by the characters -showing how they are almost alone in their anguish. The core theme of isolation eerie in Declan Bennett’s rendition of Gethsemane is overwhelmingly melancholic that it’s hard not to feel the tiredness he seems resigned to at the fall of his celebrity.

Tyrone Huntley’s Judas matches this performance, never overpowering Jesus, even in what feels like a sing off at multiple points. His torment as he shrinks in on himself following the betrayal that stained his hands and arms with the pieces of silver is haunting; the silver itself works fantastically as a tool to drive the narrative at points where castmates would normally be closer. The kiss, now a mark of silver wiped on the cheek of Jesus. Mary’s reassuring touches in Everything’s Alright, now a chasm felt as she tries and fails to reassure her love.

Photo by Mark Senior on the Theatre website

Tiered staging and glitter in the flagellation truly place these performances as more than a stage show, making the 90 minute concert feel like the rock show it deserves to be seen as.  (Genesis Lynea’s delivery of the flagellation too is something of note, her dances lead the mob mentality in a way you just cannot divert your eyes from.) The colours create a new dimension, adding a level of glitz to the performance in the most striking of ways. Shaq Taylor and Ivan de Frietas were stand outs to me, bringing more from King Herod and Caiaphas than you would ever expect. Their voices carry across the auditorium, carrying the audience away so that for a short time you can forget about what is going on in the world outside. 

If I were to give a star rating to this production it’s easily a 5 star performance. The cast and innovative use of Soutra Gilmour’s Evita set by Tom Scutt just mark this production as something for the history books. The cast alternates without a set schedule at every performance so there is no certainty who will lead the show until you arrive, what is certain though is the knowledge that you will not be disappointed either way. Every member of the cast is a powerhouse. Not only is it the triumphant return to live theatre we all wished for, but further evidence that the arts are what has carried the majority of us through this pandemic.


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