The Smu Reviews

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Music / Art / Pop Culture

Faith, Rebellion and Lashings of Glitter: Jesus Christ Superstar at Edinburgh Playhouse

In an effort to remain contemporary over the years JC Superstar has often leaned into an alt/rock aesthetic – at times looking more like Rocky Horror than many productions of Rocky Horror did. The staging has, in a way, acted as a lens for whatever the current notion of superstardom was. Sometimes this worked, sometimes it didn’t – it can be tricky trying to make God cool.

This production opts for a simpler, sweat pants and gym-wear wardrobe, housed inside an abstract, industrial, set. Whilst I don’t think I had any great desire to see Jesus in a Gap hoodie and baseball hat, it works as an unfussy blank slate, and is in a way closer to the 1973 movie than it might seem. It is also, for better or worse, a fairly accurate account of mainstream iconicism today.

The cast were undeniably the highlight of the show and the vocals consistently fantastic throughout. The ensemble were strong but special mentions should be given to Ian McIntosh, Shem Omari James, and Hannah Richardson in the roles of Jesus, Judas, and Mary, respectively. McIntosh in particular absolutely nailed (no pun intended) the emotional intensity of the Garden of Gethsemane, belting out some insane rock opera Big Notes. Timo Tatzber is also deserving of a shout out for his scene stealing turn as Herod, and whose flamboyant, dark-caberet performance brought a welcome dose of black humour to the proceedings.

Jesus appears, in this production more than most, to be somewhat lost and aimless amongst the chaos around him for much of the show. At times it’s even visually hard to pick him out from the crowd. This is not a criticism of the performance, and McIntosh is 100% present when the time comes, but this Jesus is very much more a man born into a situation not of his making than a charismatic cult leader.

The second act of the show is a non stop fireball of energy, emotion and glitter-drenched betrayal, but while the director’s vision for the darker aspects of the story was evident, there were moments where the gentler parts felt somewhat overlooked. “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” in particular felt like a missed opportunity, despite a strong performance from Richardson. The contemporary, interpretive, choreography came into its own in the latter half, but often felt awkward and out of place earlier on. Any critiques I have in these areas are easily overshadowed by the sheer energy and momentum of the second act however, and it absolutely goes out on a high. If you can call the crucifixion of Christ on a cross made out of microphone stands a high, which I do.

It’s a difficult show to pitch tonally, there is a certain joyful ebullience to some of the songs but of course it’s never going to end well (spoiler: he dies). While not without its flaws, the production delivered where it mattered most, with stellar performances and moments of genuine emotion. If you’re a fan of the musical or just looking for a night of high-energy, blood soaked, entertainment, this is one you won’t want to miss.

All words by Susan Sloan.