The strapline for this new version of the events leading up to the Crucifixion of Jesus is ‘Born. Believed. Betrayed’. It gives a good idea of the fresh approach taken by writer Lizzie Hopley and director Charlotte Conquest, using Nick King’s new translation of the New Testament as a starting point. If Hopley’s script is anything to go by, this must be a wonderfully direct retelling – the Sermon on the Mount for example is a genuinely stirring call to action by a man so impassioned, his detractors might well call him rabble rouser.
The mythic dimension is enhanced by the inclusion of the Angel of Death, a brooding presence clad like an ancient warrior queen in Dami Olukoya’s focused performance; and the imaginative use of a chorus drawn from the local community, in masks and flowing robes.
These versatile and gifted amateurs easily shift from Greek chorus mode to providing a rapt audience on that Mount or a mob baying for blood. It’s a refreshing change from the bearded Jewish stereotypes we get from Mel Gibson’s film – and it does avoid the possibility of any Life of Brian moments too!
The actors portraying the central figures succeed in creating rounded, full-blooded individuals, who love and rejoice, doubt and suffer, while still retaining that sense of being caught up in events that transcend the mundane.
Tom Peters, a charismatic performer in the title roles of Macbeth and Robin Hood in past Creation productions, invests the role of Jesus with authority and, yes, passion. You can see why the disciples (Jonathan Baker, Tim Crowther and Gary Trainor amply filling the sandals of eleven ( the twelfth being Owen Oakeshott’s fiery, sympathetic Judas of course), would follow him anywhere.
And the two Marys in Jesus’ life, his mother and Mary Magdalene are the most sensitive and touching of female presences. Caroline Devlin is heart rending as the mother facing this most terrible of bereavements and Natalie Garrett, an actress who now also works as a vicar, invests her vigorous Magdalene with a sense of wonder at a love transmuted from mortal to spiritual.
Peter Lole’s powerful score, part prerecorded and part sung live, comes over with a raw visceral sound that haunts the memory thanks to a company in great voice.
Oxford Castle provides a stark, atmospheric backdrop, especially as night falls. The action begins as a promenade performance and the whole might have been even more powerful if the audience had continued to follow literally in Jesus’ steps.