Godspell

Date 3rd June 2014
Society Festival Players
Venue ADC Theatre Cambridge
Type of Production Musical
Director James Dowson
Musical Director Brian Thomas
Choreographer Kirsty Smith

Report

Author: Julie Petrucci

The first, and perhaps the best, of the pop-rock-gospel musicals, Godspell is an amalgam of story and song, based on the gospel of St Matthew with the odd bit from St Luke. This Broadway hit show grew out of the ‘peace and love’ youth culture of the 60s and was very much a show of its time.  

Drawing as it does from various theatrical traditions, such as clowning, pantomime, puppetry, music hall etc., the show is open to interpretation by the company, something which Director James Dowson grasped with both hands giving his own and the cast’s imagination full reign.  

Godspell can be performed with the simplest of sets and costumes. All you need is an ensemble of ten or twelve (or in this case 20+) performers to bring the material to life.  Ensemble is the operative word here as only Jesus, John the Baptist and Judas emerge as distinct characters, although the whole cast has to invest in it personally on all levels.  

The staging appeared to be a derelict house consisting of two levels.  The programme describes it as ‘a house where people are taking shelter’.  One assumed they were refugees but there was nothing definite to back up that assumption.  The costumes were drab in the extreme with the exception of the First Disciples who shed their coats and scarves and added a length of red ribbon as they joined the ‘Master’ but even those lacked anything much in the way of colour.  I must say that visually I expected it to be more colourful than symbolic. Maybe I missed the director’s philosophy behind it.

The whole cast was talented, energetic and charismatic.  As a group, they were all equally strong in their vocal skills.  Each 'Disciple' takes the lead in one or more of the parables, and they all expressed their emotions well and handled the comedy and their musical numbers, expertly.  There was a danger a couple of times when things looked about to go over the top but they were too professional to allow this to happen. The human puppets were very clever.  

Chip Colquhoun has a huge stage presence and gave an extremely strong performance as Jesus, which was almost heartbreaking as he said a personal and emotional goodbye to each one, bringing a lump to many throats. Trenetta Jones was equally strong both as Baptist and Judas, and her powerful voice did full justice to her songs. 

My heart went out to the People of the House (or non-believers?) who spent much of their time on the upper level sweltering under coats and scarves in the (intentional) semi-darkness.  However, on the up side they were absolutely honed in on what was going on below. Interacting with each other and responding to Jesus and his disciples: when they were drawn into the action, they lifted the already huge energy level up a notch.  Surprisingly from the programme credit Choreographer Kirsty Smith only set “We Beseech Thee” which leads me to believe that the director also had a hand in it somewhere too.

Credit must also be given to the excellent and atmospheric lighting by Ed Hopkins and his team.

Much of the music in this show is quite complex.  Of course there is the familiar and loved “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” and “Day by Day” plus  the addition of the song written for the film version the lovely “Beautiful City”.  However, “Learn Your Lessons Well” and especially “All for the Best” were extremely impressive and “On The Willows”, in particular, was beautiful.   Musical Director Brian Thomas and his musicians Colin Hazel, Tom Hancock and Linda Thomas, certainly deserved their elevated curtain call.  They seem to go from strength to strength.

This show was emotive, imaginative and energetic and certainly had a nice feel-good-factor.  Festival Players once again hit the spot with Godspell.