Theatre Review: The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. The Station, Bristol
Irreverent, funny, cerebral and gripping – The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is not for the faint hearted. The drama challenges many of the Christianity’s core values such as this theological conundrum: reconciling God’s infinite unconditional love with the idea of unforgiving eternal damnation.
Set in a secular abstract purgatory courtroom in the style and language of late 20th century New York, the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School production is a refreshingly lively and entertaining take on Stephen Adly Guirgis’s 2005 play.
In a traverse setting at Bristol’s Central Youth Hub in Silver Street at The Station the audience is asked does Judas Iscariot deserve the title of the world’s worst traitor? Lawyers on both sides of the arguments put forward their evidence and star witnesses as a battle of wits takes place as insults fly and accusations are made.
The case to dismiss the charge is brought forward by Cunningham, a smooth-talking lawyer on top of her brief played brilliantly by Evie Hargreaves. Against her is Alexander Uzoka played by an animated and enjoyably chaotic lawyer Usuf El-Fayoumy complete with burnt feet and torn suit since he’s on leave from down below. The case is presided over by old beyond his years corrupt Judge Littlefield (Tom Atkinson) helped by the comically enthusiastic bailiff brought to life by Josephine-Fransilja Brookman as the case flips backwards and forwards through Judas’ life in search of damning or redeeming evidence.
It is hard to pick fault with director Nik Partridge’s production since all aspects were so creative and attention grabbing from the acting to the lighting, sound, music, costumes and movement. For an audience a three-hour play is a challenge despite an interval – but that’s down to the playwright’s script – and there are plenty of plays of this length including Hamlet and Long Day’s Journey into Night.
The ensemble cast also included dance and mime sequences which enhanced the drama with several actors playing more than one role. Yazmin Kayani’s flirtatious Mother Teresa and her more humble Loretta was a joy as was Max Guest as Caiaphas the Elder and Matthais of Galilee who makes friends with Judas. And speaking of the titular character Ajani Cabey’s portrayal of Iscariot was breath-taking in its complexity. From the child of a poor family with his prized spinning top, to sulking victim and guilt-stricken drunk and psychologically damaged follower his was an outstanding performance.
Victoria Hoyle as Mary Magdalene, Saint Thomas, Henrietta Iscariot and Sister Glenna had her work cut out with so many roles and accents to master, as did Chiara Lari as Pontius Pilate, Gloria and Saint Peter – demonstrating the range of the cast who all seek professional acting careers in the future. A note of praise for voice coach Sue Cowen.
Simon the Zealot (Joshua Hurley) seemed to have stepped out of the set of The Godfather as he was questioned by Cunningham over his three years with Jesus in an entertaining exchange – and the Messiah himself was given a quiet dignity by Joe Usher in a telling final scene preceded by an anecdote which placed Iscariot’s guilt or innocent verdict in context by Patrick McAndrew as an average man caught out by one night of drink.
The star role and one which he excelled at in the play was that of Satan played by Alex Cook. They say the Devil has all the best songs – well in this play he has all the best lines outsmarting and out witting Cunningham and turning the tables on his distractors. Creepy, rude and deliciously evil – no pantomime baddie – but a template for evil itself.
Open minded Christians and anyone studying theology will find the show of interest, but I suspect those of a devout belief may balk as some of the language and portrayal of the characters – but it is a play and not a biblical text.
So much to enjoy – and so long to enjoy it – with a standing ovation at the end from an almost full house. Another triumph for the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and an advert for The Station as a central Bristol theatre venue.
The play runs to Saturday, March 12th, 2022.
Tickets from £10 at https://bristololdvic.org.uk/whats-on/the-last-days-of-judas-iscariot
Note: there is no bar or café at The Station but there are cafes and pubs nearby for the interval if you are quick. No food is allowed in the theatre as one of the cast, has an airborne nut allergy.
Harry Mottram is the news editor of South Bristol Voice monthly magazine and a freelance journalist. Visit http://www.harrymottram.co.uk/