By James Ong
We find ourselves in a purgatory courtroom as a celestial judge, jury and litigation are tasked with deciding the fate of history’s most contentious figures. On the docket for today, Judas Iscariot – the infamous betrayer of Jesus, and probably the most (almost) universally hated figure in the realm of Catholicism and Christianity. Over the course of the next two and half hours, we scrutinize and analyse the life of this seemingly irredeemable man as a revolving door of significant figures each give their 2 cents worth.
Playing from an *ahem* intimate space in the inner-city Darlo Drama hub, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is quite a loud production, born out of a loud script. Subtlety is not the point here, with caricature and parody taking centre stage. For the most part, the (almost) farce is played well, with character interactions well thought out. Generally, performances were effective and played with vigour. Mark J Wilson repeatedly stood out in his several bit parts, contrasting styles and tone to craft some wonderful mini-characters. Wilson’s show-closing monologue as a downtrodden Butch Honeywell brought what was a somewhat chaotic show to a heartfelt and tender conclusion. James Sugrue also entertained as the eponymous Judas, with an earnest performance and reliability (despite being catatonic for large sways).
Though certain characters definitely felt more fleshed out than others, the entire ensemble clearly worked hard to realise some larger than life characters. The only questionable decision came in their interpretation of Pontius Pilate. Here he is reinterpreted as a toxic and forceful urban thug, but their decision to have a white actor in ‘gangsta’ garb and full blaccent seems more than a touch outdated. Whether this was the brainchild of playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis or from this production’s creative team (lead by director Glen Hamilton), it seems a strange black spot in judgement.
Maybe it’s the zesty little atheist in me, but I found the content somewhat hard to invest in. The mythology surrounding Catholicism and other Abrahamic religions is so pervasive in our culture that the names Judas, Jesus, Mother Mary, Satan etc. all carry a tiresome weight to them. I find myself repeated flung back to my high school days, wincing through chapel service. Not only the religious characters, but the ensuing menagerie of morally corrupt historical figures also give off a vibe of a Sunday special, instead of thoughtful theatre-making. True these worn characters are reimagined and staged in a fresh contemporary light, but ultimately I could only invest in the actors and not the plot. As such, a lot of the show felt like a haphazard revue where the main attraction is seeing the actors having fun and hamming it up. 11 actors covering over two dozen parts requires a lot of ham, and the cast’s consistent energy definitely supplied the spectacle.
With so many loud and diverse personalities flying off the stage in every scene, the actors are really pushed to their limit, which reinforces my thought that this play works best as a training piece for actors. A slew of surface level bit parts helps to stretch and hone any performer’s capabilities, and while it’s engaging, the plot and through lines tend to suffer as a result. That being said, it’s hard not to have fun, when the cast and crew are having such a good time themselves. The Last Days of Judas Iscariot may be lacking subtlety in execution, but nonetheless, the show is a fun wave of energy.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.