By Gintare Safigulinaite
★ ★ ★ ★
The production of Jesus Christ Superstar by Everyman Theatre and The Musical Company that debuted last night at the Cardiff Open Air Theatre Festival was a fantastic, ground-breaking show. The 2000-year-old moving story of the last days in the life of Jesus Christ was brought to life in a rock masterpiece without a single dialogue; just songs, one after the other.
The classic Broadway musical was transformed into a 21st-century tale portraying life in the modern world. Hints and nods to the popular culture and the social and political structure of our society made it clear from the outset that this Jesus Christ Superstar was going to be nothing like the original version. Jesus was portrayed as a strong, dramatic and empathetic leader, who wants others to believe in the good of God, healing those who are ill, forgiving those who seemingly cannot be forgiven.
The open-air theatre provided the perfect backdrop to this fantastic experience, with a nice and relaxing atmosphere. The sun shining above the trees, the feeling of warmth and fresh air on the skin made it feel like being at home watching the performance in your own garden. The opening scene, with the actors running on stage wearing casual clothes, made it feel as if the audience was watching people running on a street. Even the props on the stage recalled the ambience of a street, with tents scattered on the grass in reference to the struggles of today’s young activists who protest relentlessly to make their voices heard. As the show went on, the audience got more and more involved; dancers came to dance right by the seats, making eye contact with the audience and making them feel part of the performance.
Jesus (Ashley Richards) and Judas’ (Owain Sullivan) voices were amazing and portrayed the characters in an extremely compelling manner. The acting was incredibly realistic and relatable to the things we see every day – authorities with posters in their hands, protestors screaming, showing middle fingers, rebelling against the police, male dancers wearing provocative women’s underwear and heels in reference to the fight for LGBT+ equality. The musical seemed to compare Jesus with contemporary leaders and public figures who quickly become targets whenever their views oppose popular beliefs. Very fittingly, the stage was invaded by reporters recording the action with cameras and phones and posting on social media, interviewing Jesus about his actions and feelings. The audience was holding their breath during the final scene in which Jesus is crucified and dies. Astonished silence accompanied Jesus’ followers as they took the body and walked off the stage.
The audience was left in awe by the depth of this production of Jesus Christ Superstar. They were struck by the realisation that history really does repeat itself and that we’re still making the same mistakes 2000 years later. While still a light-hearted and enjoyable experience, this musical encourages to reflect on where our society is going and what its guiding moral principles are. It’s an experience you won’t want to miss.