In America, -‘
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death threats against its cast. Willa play about a gay Jesus find a more tolerant audience inidingprgh?
Words. Steve Cramer
ANY PLAY THAT PORTRAYS JESUS CHRIST AS GAY MIGHT easily be accused of courting controversy. However. Stephen l-lenry. the director currently involved in bringing the liuropean premier of Terrence .VlcNally‘s Corpus
Christi to the Fringe. expresses surprise at both the level of
public interest and. in some quarters. resistance to the idea. The storm created by the play ‘s New York run might have forewarned him. but Henry seems to mirror the very indignation thrown at him.
‘lt's incredibly frustrating. but I can‘t control what people are going to say in advance.‘ he says. ‘The worst thing is that so much of it is based on pure ignorance. A lot of people who‘ve criticised us haven't even seen the play. and most haven‘t read it either.’ When asked about the inherently provocative nature of the play‘s subject matter.
Having got all the controversy out of the way. one feels entitled to actually discuss the play itself. The narrative promises a succession of historical shifts. moving freer between the time of Christ. the Southern states of the US in the 50s. and the current world. Asked how such a seemingly complex formula works as theatre. Henry becomes less tense. and speaks with real interest.
‘We sometimes deliberately make the time vague.‘ he says. 'The audience shouldn‘t know quite what period they‘re in. since the problems represented exist throughout history. And you‘re not sure at times whether these are actors performing and rehearsing a play. or if it‘s meant to be real. It shifts from naturalism to a Brechtian technique.‘
For all the earnest stylistic adventure and somber subject matter. there's something that a lot of those wrapped up in the
'Judas isn't really bad. He's just a man who makes the wrong choices.’ Stephen Henry
former Royal Shakespeare Company director Henry acknowledges the problem. but insists that those who attack it should make sure they know what they're talking about: ‘Yes. there's no way around it. There is at Jesus character who‘s gay — but come and see it first.’ Paradoxically. the very intolerance shown to the play seems to make McNally"s point. since Corpus Christi is in
itself a cautionary tale. warning us about the effects of
blind prejudice. Produced against the background of a succession of high profile news stories about hate crimes in the US —- particularly a recent series of murders of gay men — the play appears to seek the sources of such bigotry.
‘lt tries to look again at a familiar story. probably the most famous one in the Western world.‘ explains McNally. ‘lt speaks about how that story happened 2.()()() years ago. and it still happens now. It doesn‘t look at Christ‘s story as a museum piece. it asks what would happen if there was a second coming today.‘
22 nus usr 5—12 Aug 1999
controversy seem to have forgotten — the play is essentially comic. ‘l‘m not a theologian. I‘m a director.’ Henry remarks
with particular emphasis. ‘I make theatre — and this is a lot of
fun. There’s singing. dancing and lots of comedy in it. If it makes the audience think. that's good. but if they just come along and have a laugh. that‘s fine with me too..
Stephen Billington. who plays Greg Kelly in Coronation Street. will play Judas in this production. Asked if this represents a continuation of the villainy which Billington has made his own on TV. Henry points to the plast forgiving treatment of the character. ‘Just as Jesus is a kind of everyman figure. Judas isn't really bad. He‘sjust a man who makes the wrong choices.‘
Any of us might do the same thing. particularly if we choose to condemn a play before we see it.
Corpus Christi (Fringe) Theatre 28, Bedlam Theatre (Venue 49) 225 9893, 9—28 Aug (not 15, 22) 8pm, £10 (£7).
Judge not lest ye be judged: Stephen Billington as Judas and Mel Raido as Jesus in Corpus Christi