Jesus, My Boy at the Apollo Theatre
Never in history has a father been so upstaged as Joseph, husband to the divine Virgin Mary, stepdad to that boy, the messiah. Now, just in time for Christmas, comes the indubitable Tom Conti to redress the balance.
In an intimate heart-to-heart with the audience, Conti tells the time-worn story - from young love through immaculate conception, evangelism and, finally, crucifixion - as seen through the eyes of the poor carpenter from Bethlehem. His monologue is at times hilarious and at others, achingly poignant. All the emotions traipsing across the actor's famous visage. Under any circumstances, Conti's face is remarkable - so cushiony with expressiveness and pathos that you could fall into it. And it is the perfect face for this Joseph, an anguished father living with his own comic inadequacies and the tragic guilt of outliving his beloved son.
Conti's voice and body get in on the action too, making his monologue surprisingly dynamic. Not being one to slouch passively, Conti energeticlly acts out the parts of Mary - high-pitched voice, coquettish eyes and, during the birthing scene, howling frenzy - and the inquisitive son as well as the quirky bit parts such as the three rather unwise Wise Men.
In all of this, he is aided by a first-rate script courtesy of John Dowie. The author's time on the stand-up comedy circuit - where he developed, performed and fine-tuned Jesus, My Boy - is evident. His jokes are extremely intelligent and insightful, not to mention well-timed, wringing laughter from the audience even as tears prick at their eyes. They also go a long way to dispelling some biblical myths and common misperceptions. Rather than one winter in a manger, we re presented with one summer in a cave, and then there's the real method of Roman crucifixion which is far less picturesque and far more grisly than the swathe of Renaissance painters would have us believe.
Conti and Dowie aside, there are a few niggles with this production. Christopher Woods woodworking studio of a set is stark and uninspiring, and it doesn't help that Conti's outfit is exactly the same woodwormy colour. Nick Richings constant raising, dimming and colouring of the lighting is also annoying and, in most cases, pointless.
But these are just minor irritations and, certainly, no reason to be put off. At just 65 minutes long, you re not given much time nor opportunity to get irritated anyway. Admittedly, plays of this length can be problematic - though a shorter evening is welcomed, one can't help feeling ripped off at paying full whack for the pleasure. Luckily, no such dilemma awaits theatre-goers with Jesus, My Boy. Producers have appropriately reduced ticket prices, with seats starting at just £5.50.
Go now for a brief, guilt-free and highly entertaining experience.