East Productions, Steven Berkoff's Messiah

Review in Issue 12-3 | Autumn 2000

When Terence McNally’s Corpus Christi played on the fringe last summer, Christian zealots turned out in droves to picket the play. Why? Because McNally had the audacity to suggest that Christ may have been gay. No such protest met Berkoff’s confused and confusing Messiah at the Assembly Rooms this year, despite the fact that his play – which characterises Jesus as a manipulative liar, a scheming revolutionary, a showman and a charlatan – is more subversive by miles.

It could be because the play is so muddled and riddled with contradictions that some of the sting has been taken out of its tails. Running at close to two hours, its sprawling, interminable monologues and rambling set-pieces also dissipate the impact. It’s actually a curiously undramatic experience. There’s very little dialogue; just a monotonous succession of lengthy oratories from the key players – Pilate, Christ, Satan, Mary Magdalene et al. Then, of course, there’s the predictable chorus of brutish East End barrow boys; the ubiquitous stark, monochrome set; the familiar slow-motion gestural movements.

It’s all unmistakably Berkoff and perhaps that’s the problem. The style’s wearing thin – where once it seemed fresh and exciting (witness East or Salome, for instance), now it seems leaden and crude. There are some great individual performances (notably from Volcano Theatre’s Fem Smith) and the tableaux which stylishly suggest Renaissance Christian iconography are pleasing to the eye. But on the whole Berkoff’s Messiah is a clanking, lugubrious and self-indulgent experience.

Presenting Artists
Presenting Festival
Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. Aug 2000

This article in the magazine

Issue 12-3
p. 22