The Last Days of Judas Iscariot
By Stephen Adley Guirgis
Directed by Jamie Rocha Allan
Performed by The University of Northampton BA (Hons) Acting Third Year Students
Inside the front cover of the programme there is a warning by the director.
“This ain’t your grandmothers gospel!”. Well brother you weren’t kidding!
I had heard rave reviews of this show before the doors opened so it already had a lot of hype to live up to. As I took my seat, my ears were assaulted with very loud pounding rap music and unbeknown to me this would be very apt for what was to follow.
As this was such a huge piece, I am not going to write a traditional review of the play but a part by part review of each actor and their role. What I don’t promise to do is to remember what order they each came in so forgive me if it does not tally with actual on stage entrances.
Anchoring the show with her opening monologue was the divine Lydia Rose-Blagg as Henrietta, the mother of Judas. Having seen Lydia anchor Odyssey and her performance in Richard III I knew we were in safe hands and she lead us perfectly into what was to come. While being cross examined her need for honesty was struggling against the need to protect her son. Lydia comes across as strong and powerful while still being fragile as the mother of the man who betrayed Jesus. I am fast convinced there is nothing will stand in Lydia’s way that she cannot handle.
Michael Whelbourne as Judas. On stage and sitting so still as we took our seats, Michael looked just right for this role. Throughout the play, either in his catatonic state or in flashback sequences, his characterisation was well observed. Without the humorous lines that so many other were given, he showed a strong, troubled and tormented soul in equal measure. his was a very difficult part to play and played very well by Michael.
Melissa Madden as Gloria. Now that’s what I call an angel! She rocked the audience with her self assured strut across the stage and set the more humorous tone that was to follow. As Sister Glenda he timing was impeccable in her repeat section and as the soldier she put a verb “street” accent to the part.
Matt Hirst as Judge Littlefield. Trying to maintain order in his own courtroom, Matt was allowed little space for physical movement but excelled in the role by mannerisms, hand gestures and voice alone. Not impressed by a writ signed by God but more than a little scared of his brush with Satan later in the play. A very different part from Banquo where I first saw him but still as impressive.
Catherine Garlick as the bailiff and Saint Peter. As the bailiff Catherine was so funny without saying more than a few words. Just her face when Satan strolled in was hilarious and her expressions throughout were worth seeing. I swear no one else could have got so many laughs just by holding their short up! Please someone give Catherine a leading role she can really show off her talent. Her one woman show for Flash Festival should do this.
Zoe Davey as Fabiana Aziza Cunningham. Small in stature, Zoe was a giant in the part of the defence council for Judas. She is abused by the judge, mocked by the prosecuting council (who I will come to next) and ridiculed by Satan, Zoe has to deliver every emotion know to man. In particular her final scene with Satan is difficult to watch as she remains focussed while being personally deconstructed in public. Strong stuff and Zoe does it to perfection.
Ashlee Sopher as Yusef Akbar Wahid Al-Nassar Gamel El-Fayoumy. Ashley was handed the funniest role in the entire play and thus he had to work hard to deliver such a great performance. So many incredible lines to deliver and all dished out at some speed and in that accent. A couple of times there needed to be a pause for us the poor audience to finish laughing before the next barb was unleashed. A sycophantic boot licker and Mother Teresa worshiper El-Fayoumy is a brilliant character and masterly portrayed by Ashlee.
Antonia Underwood as Mother Teresa. The very least that can be said about Antonia’s portrayal of Mother Teresa is that it added an extra 20 minutes to the running time. How on earth can someone walk that slowly on and off stage. The audience loved it and laughed to the end of each journey. Seated where I was I could see that Antonia carried this on right the way off stage and not just until she was out of sight to the stalls. Sitting in the witness box wearing her bright green Beats by Dr Dre headphones she was an enigmatic delight. Fawned over by El-Fayoumy, she was the perfect saintly women we knew. Truly if you have nothing good to say, then say nothing. Nice one Antonia!
Chloe Emery as Simon the Zealot. Chloe’s piece was one of the shorter roles but she gave us a display of more than a little arrogance as the Zealot. Happy to answer questions but very unhappy to be questioned about the extent of their belief. Chloe’s posture as arrogant as the Zealot’s personality and Chloe looked the part.
Abigail Benson-Ross as Caiaphus The Elder. Caiaphus is a morally complex character and Abbie keeps her on track. Under examination by El-Fayoumy, she is happy to describe what she did and why she did it. Under cross examination by Fabiana, it was a very different affair. How Abbie managed never to look Fabiana in the eye I don’t know. It’s so difficult to do and it really showed some of the more complexity of the role.
Jack Smith as Sigmund Freud. Jack is a natural comic and he was allowed to put some of his comedic skills into this role. Not a big part for Jack but so perfectly observed and delivered and a perfect foil for El-Fayoumy.
Tara Lawrence as Saint Mathew, Loretta and Matthias of Galilee. For these three roles, Tara needs half a page to herself but suffice to say that she delivered on all three. I particularly liked the part of Loretta complete with her drip stand. Tara really suits the southern American accent used throughout. She fitted in nicely as Matthias of Galilee and was one of the few who never sat in the witness box.
Hannah Mitchell as Saint Thomas. Hanna gives a delightful performance as the doubting and self deprecating Thomas. Sat on the edge of the raised rear platform she delivers a monologue that describes all her doubts and fears and how close she was to betraying Jesus herself. A nice portrayal by Hannah.
Samantha Colden at Pontius Pilate. Samantha was more than a little scary as Pilate. So cold, so harsh, so unrepentant and unbending in her belief that what she did was right. This was a cool calculated performance and added a lot to the whole. I am sure Samantha was happy to sort her hair out when the play was over!
Rochelle Halsall as Mary Magdalene. A difficult role for Rochelle as Mary is a much maligned character . Denying her relationship as the lover of Jesus and as the wife of Jesus, the ex whore explains herself in a monologue. Rochelle maintains Mary’s somewhat bruised dignity throughout.
Samantha Ahweyevu as Saint Monica. Samantha crops up several times and each time is slightly more foul mouthed that he last! Portraying a Saint in a gangsta style is curious to say the least but Samantha carries it off with aplomb. Her friends assure me she is not like that in real life and for that I heave a sigh of relief. Well done Samantha.
Steve Banks as Satan. WOW! So where do I start? Under examination for the first time we see what may be called the public face of Satan. Smooth, calm, sophisticated and totally unflappable. He answers his questions with sincerity mixed with sarcasm but assuredly answers them. In the flash back sequence where he is in a bar with Judas we begin to see another side of him. The evil slips out even if just fleetingly. We see the real Satan when required to be called back to the witness box. Put simply he flips! Steve’s smooth portrayal suddenly erupts in fury and the audience, the jurors and the members of the court are left in no doubt of Satan’s true self. As Satan tries to verbally destroy Fabiana, he is met with her steely determination to make him tell the truth for once. This role was a true revelation as I had never seen Steve in such a huge powerful role before. When calm he conned us into almost liking him. When angry, Steve gave the performance of his life and I doubt I will ever forget it. Outstanding young man.
Oliver Mort as Jesus. A tiny but important role for Oliver. Tiny in time on stage but so important as he tries to persuade Judas that he is still his friend and forgives him his betrayal. Oliver portrays Jesus as we have come to expect and I am glad the writer did not try and change that. Touching at the end as he washed the feet of his betrayer.
Last but definitely not least, Jamie Dawson-Park as Butch Honeywell. The character of Butch Honeywell appears vey early on in the performance and is tiny. By the time we see Jesus, I am convinced that the director has lost his head and only given Jamie a pathetic two or three lines now lost in time. As I am expecting the lights to go down and the curtain to fall, onto the stage walks Jamie and proceeds to deliver a truly fabulous monologue to a catatonic Judas. It was riveting to watch and heavenly to hear. At last someone has given this big man a chance to prove he can act. Jamie, my hat comes off to you and I was thrilled by your performance.
Well that’s that then. Everyone listed, everyone mentioned. With almost 1700 words written in praise I may be allowed to mention that at the beginning and at the start of the second half that the music did not go down fast enough and the first few words were lost to us.
Put simply, this was a great piece of theatre, flawlessly acted and I would sit through it all again tomorrow if I had the chance!
Thank you one and all.