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North East
posted/updated: 18 Jun 2018 -
Stephen Schwartz
society/company: Jarrow Musical Theatre Company (directory)
performance date: 15 May 2018
venue: Christ's Church Jarrow
reviewer/s: Tom Casling (Independent review)

When one goes to the theatre to see a show you quite rightly expect order, calmness, a comfortable seat, a stage, actors in costume, a set, defined entrances and exits, a clear demarcation between audience and cast. From the minute you enter Christ Church Jarrow your senses are assaulted by a mixture of sights, sounds, smells, taste and feelings. The church appeared filled with incense drifting across the pews and upwards but in reality it is the outpouring of a smoke machine, lights dart around the church mimicking candles as the lighting crew carry out last minute lighting checks providing us with what can only be described as an indoor firework display. Actors defy conventions mingling with the incoming audience, in modern day dress, having casual conversations with family, friends, and loved ones. There is no seating plan, your seat is a church pew. What on earth is going on?

This musical is about a man who turned the normal concepts, conventions and teachings of the establishment on its head: In choosing this venue, and approach the Director has captured the mood totally. Gone are the traditional conventions of theatre and of church and worship as the two mingle. We are in the realms of total theatre immersed in the production from the moment we crossed the threshold.

The opening scene takes us through a history of some great teachers; philosophers and free-thinkers and the persecutions they experienced for their outspokenness. This is juxtaposed with the double-speak, the babble the lies and the spin that we are all familiar with from politicians and leaders today. The appearance of John the Baptist, and Jesus places them both in the context of a long line of prophets, philosophers and teachers.

Godspell is a musical, composed by Stephen Schwartz. This show was/is in many ways the ‘Hamilton’ and ‘Rent’ of its day written as a voice of ordinary people. It is a series of Scenes / Parables mostly based on the Gospel of Matthew. The parables are interspersed with a variety of modern day music and many of the themes are so relevant today.

When reviewing a show it is customary to say something about individual actors however with a musical and a cast of this size it is difficult to do so whilst doing it justice. What I would say is that you were all great. The dance routines were many and various and showed how well the company worked as a team. The timing, the cohesion, the symmetry, the different styles of dance – so many individuals, so many different ages, size and shapes but all working as one and the energy levels put me to shame. The acting was superb from the main characters down to the smallest detail, I particularly liked some of the simple things. In the many references to ‘Hell’ and ‘Hades’ I was moved by the crazed looks of torment and wretchedness as with outstretched hands, arms and bodies they physically tried to consume others.

I would like to compliment the soloists and the chorus line individually and collectively. The voices and harmonies were exquisite. On one number I wanted to leave my seat to cross from right to left work out what you were doing or how you were achieving this sound but it got inside me and moved me as I have often experienced in a church. Well done to you all. I asked a friend: What do you think? How does it compare to what you have seen previously? And he said: ‘It was up there with the best’. I agree. Thank you so much JMTC for the experience.

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