Genesis/Golgatha[author-post-rating] (4/5 stars)

In a rather obscure Assembly venue space tucked behind a construction site, two of the most famous people in the world take the stage in order to speak to us. It’s been a long few millennia and, after a lot of bad press, they just want to get the facts straight. In Clancy Production’s hidden gem of a show, Genesis/Golgatha, Eve (not the rapper) and Jesus Christ (possibly a beat poet) present two monologues that pretty much rewrite history, with radical and richly poetic reassessments of the Good Book as we know it. Nothing is sacred – God, humanity, sex and sin all come under scrutiny in this assured production that boasts finely-tuned performances and fiercely intellectual writing.

Eve (Nancy Walsh) appears before us as a wife and earth-mother, a sort of world-weary ex-hippy, heartbroken by her expulsion from the Garden of Eden, horrified by her all-consuming love for Adam and her children, furious with the creator who she sees as a lonely, selfish genius who simply didn’t think about the consequences of his actions. She, of course, was punished for her curiosity, but as she argues passionately, isn’t it that very longing for knowledge that energises her, makes her wondrous and makes her human? Her experience of the world, “in the first place” (my favourite double-entendre of the Fringe) is not paradise as we might imagine it, but filled with awe and horror – sex is  “horrible and strange and wonderful”, yet she empathises with God, she thinks they are more alike than the almighty might assume – because they have both created things that are doomed to die, that is their joy and their punishment.

Jesus Christ (John Clancy) is a shabby hobo talking in manic poetry at a hundred miles an hour, with his bloodied shirt and battered hands that could just as well be the marks of a bar brawl than a crucifixion. Biblical characters are relocated to Nazareth, Pittsburg with plenty of scope for darkly cynical and probably blasphemous comedy – “my mother was dating this Italian before she had me” kind of thing. Pontius Pilate turns up a blank-faced Quentin Tarantino villain, a strangely hollow soul with a clipped southern drawl. Mary Magdalene (reminiscent of Missy from Kerouac’s On the Road) is the great romance of Christ’s life and is a serial cheater, but only because she’s following Christ’s tenet of universal love.  He’s a reluctant Messiah, in fact he’s not even sure if he’s the messiah at all – God is definitely crazy by this point, so Christ is too. There’s something deliciously theatrical in the moment when Christ addresses us – the audience , the world – as “you imaginary people in the dark!” with the kind of fervour that could be that of a genuine visionary or simply the deluded ramblings of the wild-eyed preacher you avoid in the shopping centre. The choice to doubt or believe is left entirely up to us.

The production is about as stripped back as you can get – just the actors, on an empty stage, engaging with us. But the text is intricate, stylish, complex and genuinely demanding; I think I could actually hear the cogs of my mind grinding, having rusted a little from a fortnight’s disuse. It’s certainly not for everyone, and the performances can tip very occasionally into melodrama, but most of the time Genesis/Golgatha is a poetically rich and emotionally invested work that’s worth seeking out.

Genesis/Golgotha played at Assembly George Square as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.