I’m Not Jesus Christ packs a powerful punch. This play is hidden in Theatre N16’s intimate 20 seater space – and it is only a two-minute walk away from Balham Station. It is written by award-winning Romanian playwright and novelist Maria Monolescu who developed the play during the International Residency at the Royal Court Theatre in 2007.
With a mix of light humour, plenty of religious paraphernalia, violence and cursing, I’m Not Jesus Christ is based on the true tale of eleven-year-old, Mihai. He is raised in Romania solely by his mother and prohibited from going to school as she believes he is Jesus Christ. However, today is not any other day; it is Mihai’s twelfth birthday, and all he wants is a birthday cake and to be like his idol, Michael Schumacher.
The play touches on many issues such as religion, the cyclical nature of violence, the sex industry, childhood, morality, sacrifice, love and the stories we tell. The cast of four were extremely talented and were instrumental in the success of this storytelling. Andrei Costin is a very believable and sympathetic Mihai whose stories form the backbone to the play. Izabella Urbanowicz plays a terrifyingly loving mother who believes herself to be the Virgin Mary and will go to any length to protect her son. Maria Alexe is a strong and wilful Ileana and drives the plot forward with her dreams of the elusive publicity of the television. Sharon Duffy plays an empathetic and intelligent Ana as well as various other characters.
However, the writing in some ways presents the characters as caricatures. Ana and Ileana are written in a very black-and-white fashion. As sex workers, they are portrayed as just seeking money and who will resort to any measures to obtain it. Ileana even refers to the dead Ana as “just a whore” and goes to extreme lengths to claim payment. In this way, the writing lacks three dimensional characters, and the humanity which would make a pathos provoking finale. Developing the characters would further allow us to question and challenge the existing stereotypes of religious fanaticism and the sex industry, and to view these issues in a new light. Additionally, the audience wonders: How does Mihai know who Schumacher is if he doesn’t have a television and doesn’t go to school? Nevertheless, the actors were extremely skilful, and they collaborated to form a moving and engaging ensemble who managed to convey the play.
I’m Not Jesus Christ is playing at Theatre N16 until 26 May. For more information and tickets, see Theatre N16’s website.
Photo: Tomas Vorel