I should have loved this play. I’m into Christ, I’m into being gay. Terrence McNally’s script, in the right hands and possibly another context, can probably reach beautiful and painful levels, but unfortunately, here at the Arcola, as part of the Creative/Disruption 18 Festival and presented by the Arcola Queer Collective, it lacks bite. Where once Corpus Christi did indeed disrupt, here it inches along, despite an energetic and capable ensemble.
Part of this may yet lie with the script – more focus on the love story between Jesus and Judas would have been welcome, but despite what feels like a substantial running time, it simply isn’t given much of a look in. Much of the humour is very safe, perhaps slightly dated, though despite that there’s a lot to like. Such as the idea of the saviour continually hearing the noise of the hammer striking the nails through his palms and the voice of God telling him “This is my son, in whom I take much delight”, or Satan taking the form of James Dean in the desert to tempt Jesus (here Joshua). Alyx Stone as Judas is strong in his too few moments, and Elijah W Harris is charismatic, though not very Jesus-like.
The director, Nick Connaughton, and the company have clearly made efforts to give each actor enough to do, but there is still scarcely a need for all 13 of them, however smoothly they work together. There is a disappointing amount of laughter from the audience at the mere sight of what they assume to be men playing the parts of women, throughout, as if this wasn’t a ‘queer’ play. This Corpus Christi is not very sexual, as perhaps a more defiant and lasting production might be, nor does it ever seethe; it is instead rather safe. The cast are mainly young, adding to a sense of this Corpus as without deep roots in the LGBT+ community’s history to lend it strength. The vaguely pro-gay politics of ‘Born This Way’, played as the audience take their seats, underscores this neatly.
The subjects of this play remain close to my heart, but the production failed to touch me with them. The allegory of Joshua as a small-town gay man from Texas doesn’t fit coherently with the story of Jesus as we’re shown it: the cultural references aren’t consistent enough, his struggle neither specific nor horrible enough. Joshua doesn’t get to show us much of himself as a gay person or as the Son of God. Arcola Queer Collective strives to deliver McNally’s narrative in its entirety, and there’s a lot there, but perhaps if more risks had been taken, more care put into making us believe and feel for this figure (as we rightly should) or for Judas, we might be left with more of an impression.
Corpus Christi is playing at the Arcola Theatre until the 10 March
Photo: Ali Wright