IT IS EASY to see why ‘The Last Days of Judas Iscariot’, currently being performed at BOA The Old Rep, has become a ‘must do show’ for the top drama schools since Pulitzer winning playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis wrote it and Broadway saluted it back in 2005.
It offers everything from a huge cast of heroes and villains battling for the acting honours on a gigantean scale to sumptuous opportunities for ultra-imaginative ensemble work.
Simply (which it most certainly is not) the plot concerns an appeal trial taking place in a courthouse somewhere in purgatory for the greatest villain of them all, Judas Iscariot.
Director James Lees adds his own style and flare right from the get-go as he uses the entire company to present a prologue of Jesus’s early days of miracles and cult worship; set to a pounding rock soundtrack.
This mixes Woodstock with Hogwarts and Leonardo’s ‘Last Supper’ with Michelangelo’s ‘Creation of Adam’ in a kaleidoscopic cacophony. After the crucifixion has been re-enacted, the story opens with Judge Littlefield, an amusingly bad tempered performance by Tate Wellings being cornered into hearing the case for Judas’ redemption; by the attractive and intelligent defence attorney Cunningham and the sly and geekish prosecutor El-Fayoumy – delightful performances from Lucy Foley and Jacob Lowe.
The lawyers call what must be the most colourful witness list ever assembled.
From Mother Theresa (spot on by Maddy Williams) to the Lord of Darkness himself, head-to-toe Gucci boy Satan.
Played with a lovely nod towards Al Pacino by a debonair – let-me-be-your-best-friend, my clubs-the-place-to-hang – Luke Taylor Uttley.
There is even an appearance by the one and only Sigmund Freud (Alastair Bancroft).
Highlights have to include the gangster rap by Pontius Pilate (Adjei Dsane) and a stunning hip-hop entrance by the soulful Saint Monica (a joyous Kevvauna Welsh).
A mention too for Butch Honeywell (Billy Adams/James Gill)who puts his case for non-forgiveness personally and uncompromisingly to Judas along with a six pack of beer.
Fred Trenholme is excellent in the title role Of Mr Iscariot and faultlessly remains locked in his own tortured soul throughout; he doesn’t ask anyone for forgiveness and is a testament to the words ‘Forever and Ever’.
Mazim Benaicha’s Jesus of Nazareth moves like a ‘Cirque du Soleil’ player but doesn’t get to speak until near the end when he gently delivers a worth-waiting-for monologue absolving Judas.
Without doubt this is a long, sprawling, somewhat disjointed play and requires hard work to follow everything that is happening; it is not safe theatre either in language or action; there are moments to make you draw breath and moments to make you gasp but it is so much the better for it.
These academy students have done BOA and Birmingham proud.
Their professionalism and teamwork bursts from the stage giving the audience food for thought to reconsider their views on faith and forgiveness.