BY CATHAL DELEA
Walking home along the Stranmillis embankment last Wednesday after The Man Jesus at the Lyric Theatre, I already had the skeleton of the review for its opening night written in my head. All that had to be done was add flesh and avoid the usual clichés; the triumph of Matthew Hurt’s writing, the tender retelling of the Christ story, one sharing blood with Philip Pullman’s masterful novel The Good man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, the naked simplicity of the set; a bare stage behind which chairs would be brought forward, replaced or scattered around. I just had to find a better way to mention Simon Callow’s tour de force performance and remember to remark on his staggering control over his accent changes from lower-class Scot to erudite Englishman. Finally I would remark on the heart in the play, and how Hurt ensured that it never became too sombre by interspersing it with jokes – even though some seemed easy or reaching for a level of intelligence that wasn’t found.
Mindful that it couldn’t be all positive I toyed with the idea of mentioning how it was a pity that Hurt chose not to tackle the character of Jesus head on, particularly in a play whose boldness of title promised so much, and that although it could be argued that this was an aesthetic decision on the writer’s part, intended to showcase a fuller-range of perceptions of its title character through the eyes of his accomplices; yet it ultimately rang through as timidity on the writers part. Regardless of all this it was still a heart-warming, funny and inventive performance, well worth the £20 ticket fare.
If I had written this review then I would have said all those things and more and each one would have been true and meant; but looking back now, a few days later, I’m met with a problem. I know I felt these things upon seeing the play, but the sentiment has quickly faded. It still was great, and if you have a free evening then you’ll love it, but that love is fleeting. That’s the rub: The Man Jesus, though all of the positives remain, the play doesn’t have a great deal of staying power. It’s a very good play, but it doesn’t weld itself to the ribcage like the great-ones.
Students get £10 tickets for all off-peak performances (Tues & Wed nights and all matinees)