Theatre Review: Jesus Christ Superstar (Barbican Theatre, London) ★★★★★

This Jesus Christ Superstar has been doing the rounds like those six-packed Instagrammers who always seem to be on holiday in Mykonos. Two summers of fun at Regents Park Open Air Theatre, and a tour of the United States, Jesus is back in London bringing the big notes and sexy-saviour vibes.

And things have changed, a new cast, slightly revised staging (they’ve put some trees in the theatre to retain the original feeling) and more glitter mixed with the gore. 

Australian Robert Tripolino serves Otter-Jesus with an air of millennial optimism. This is Him-stagram Jesus and he definitely needs to be snapped up by a skincare sponsor because his face is looking fresh and twinky for a desert-dwelling man who’s supposed to be in his thirties. He and his band of sexy Thirst-ciples are all decked out in last season All Saints. It’s all deep v-necks and baggy, drop-crotch yoga pants in muted industrial tones. †

Photo: Johan Persson

So Otter-Jesus is having squad-problems as his buddy Judy-Ass, sorry Judas (played by Ricardo Afonso) is starting to think this is all getting a bit rocky Taylor-Swift-Discipline, instead of the good times of Taylor-Swift-1989. Some grumpy old guys are pissed off like a theatre-critic shouting at bloggers, and seeing an opportunity, offer Judy-Ass some cash (sorry, some “corporate sponsorship”) to get Otter-Jesus in a compromising position. This is symbolised in theatrical style by Judy-Ass shoving his fists into a bucket of silver glittery-paint which feels like a dirty euphemism but I can’t articulate why.

Photo: Johan Persson

Meanwhile Mary (Sallay Garnett) is bringing the chill with her India.Arie styling and is all “I don’t know how to love him” like she’s a Tumblr-teen trying to figure out her sexuality. And I get it, he’s got a 28-inch waist and puppy-dog eyes, I’d follow him too. Judy-Ass is not shipping Mary/Jesus (Jesry? Marsus?), but Otter-Jesus is enjoying himself like an independent, free man can. 

Then the Thirst-ciples are all getting a bit too full of themselves and don’t seem to get that they only get invited to the club because they’re with Otter-Jesus, and when Otter-Jesus actually needs them they’re all too busy hooking up and hunting for free stuff. So Jesus loses his shit in the temple because people are selling unauthorised merch (but honestly, they’re selling crucifixes way ahead of the big event so someone’s definitely got some lit trend forecasting). Okay, I don’t really know if that’s why he was angry because he was screaming like a proper rock tenor and the band were hella loud so it was hard to make out. 

Now Otter-Jesus is suffering genuine daily-Youtuber-burn-out and starts to wonder if this is actually a sustainable business model. 

His buddy Peter tries to cheer him up but Jesus isn’t feeling it and tells Peter that he will deny him three times – which is weirdly specific.

Then Judy-Ass KISSES him! And again, we get it, that tuft of chest-hair popping out his deep v-neck is adorable, but the kiss is really a secret signal for the killjoys to come in and grab him.

So Jesus gets stripped down in all his otter-glory and paraded in front of an ageing emo rocker named Pilate (Matt Cardle in some odd make-up), who is like “why do I care?” and then shoved in front of a crazy “Lee Bowary” type, then taken BACK to Pilate who just doesn’t understand Brand Jesus and wants nothing to do with it – but by now the backlash has started and all the people who were following & liking Jesus’ content are now like “You’re a fraud”, “Delete your account”, “Just die already”. 

Meanwhile, Judy-Ass realises he’s been a really shit friend and (spoilers!) kills himself – which is why we need mental health support phone-lines and to teach young people how to handle social media properly. 

Emo-rocker Pilate tries to find a compromise and decides to flog Jesus instead (after already beating the crap out of him – lots of dried blood on stage). And in a great camp-fabulous-gross moment they lash him with 39 glitter-bombs – yes, literal glitter-bombs like this is still Pride week – so he’s now bloody-but-also-sparkly-Otter-Jesus. It hits that weird, “I’m grossed out but also totally hot for this” zone.

And then Jesus’ mate Peter runs into some haters IRL and does a full Mariah – three times! Just like Jesus said. 

Then Peter and Mary.Arie do a number about how things were much nicer at the beginning and this is all a bit shit and we don’t want to be grown ups anymore. It’s basically the song I sing every time I open Twitter.

So Emo-rocker caves into the twitter-storm and decides to crucify Jesus to shut them all up. Harsh. Jesus is left to die, and Ghost-Judas pops up with some very philosophical and inter-faith questions but no one is really listening because the tune is sick and everyone is back to dancing (props to Drew McOnie’s choreography).

Photo: Johan Persson

The best thing about Jesus Christ Superstar is being reminded that Andrew Lloyd-Webber can really write a great show (and I say this as someone who sat through Love Never Dies and Stephen Ward). Tim Rice’s lyrics are still sharp as ever. Everyone here is singing like it’s the X-Factor final, and TBH I’d prefer they dialled back the vocal gymnastics and put a bit more genuine emotion in, but that’s like watching Avengers: Endgame and complaining that Betty Ross from The Incredible Hulk isn’t in it. 

This is a great show! Just go already!

Jesus Christ Superstar is at the Barbican Theatre, London until 24th August 2019

By Chad Armstrong

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