Cities have always , since Sodom and Gomorrah , attracted and repelled in equal measure . In modern times , the grandeur of Place de la Concorde and Buckingham Palace are counterpointed by the festering banlieue and council tower blocks. Contemporary pop culture also celebrates its allure, from Joy Division’s Shadowplay, “ in the centre of the city where all roads meet waiting for you” to Suedes’ Asphalt World, “Sometimes we ride in a taxi to the ends of the city, Like big stars in the back seat like skeletons ever so pretty”. Thus, it represents fertile ground for Simon Quinn and Mal Dewhirst, director and writer respectively, for a modern day parable of the Bible Story.
The Blues are synonymous with urban poverty, giving a voice to the underclass, as Jesus did, so the anachronistic juxtaposition is shrewdly made. What unfolds is an episodic modern reimagining of Bible tales rounded off by the crucifixtion, interspersed with Blues standards. The songs are sung live , sometimes as solos, sometimes as ensemble, the music is a backing track with live guitar played by axeman Ben Macnair. Ben plays impressive Blues slide guitar in a style reminiscent of Ry Cooder adding atmosphere and authenticity to proceedings. A more prominent place in the sound mix would not have gone amiss.
A large and enthusiastic cast doubled up on roles offering commitment and enthusiasm. Emma Allen is a wonderfully greedy Greed, amassing wealth with an avarice which will surely have Goldman Sachs knocking on her door soon. She also played a Burlesque dancer with elan, and a smile, as well as possessing one of the best singing voices on the night. Simon Quinn was disturbingly convincing as Letch, with a voice culled from Alfred Steptoe, and a persona from Tommy’s Uncle Ernie, he illuminated every scene he appeared in, with a flash.
The part of The Messiah is always a tricky one to cast. In this production convention is bravely turned on its head by casting him as an old man, rather than bearded thirty-something. He is an anti-hero, a little fey, sometimes bemused and confused , and given the run around by the Devil for whom he is no match. His crucifixion is portrayed as no triumph, his quiescence to his persecution and beating, meted out with considerable enthusiasm by the female guards, offering an ambiguous reading of who wins. His closing performance of Nobody’s fault But Mine was delivered with pathos and conviction, one of the shows vocal highlights. The song itself was an inspired choice.
However the star of the show, in the tradition that the devil has the best tunes, is The Devil, played by Ruth Adams. Sexy, sassy and coy, quite frankly she could lead anyone astray, and does ,with a performance which is a delight. Her solo of Little Red Rooster smouldered with an intensity which was surely stoked by the fires of Hell. She strutted along Aspiration Blvd, she shimmied in the X- Bar , and seduced in Hotel De Luded. Who wouldn’t want to go down to the crossroads?
The episodic and multi-character nature of the script meant that you sometimes had to listen hard to appreciate an eloquent and humorous script. “There is no money in poetry, and no poetry in money” will have been well received by the several poets present, the rhyming of derriere with chair is probably a first. An intriguing, and witty, sub-plot also emerged as parallels were drawn between the Red Devils and the Devil. We are told that fair justice is the basis for building a defence- is that where Moyes went wrong using Cleverly instead? Was Moyes the Chosen One? Was Sir Alex a False Prophet of whom we should beware? Did the orange capes of the guards anticipate the appointment of Van Gaal?
For poignancy and power, the best cameo performance came from an actor not in the room. It came in the form of a movingly filmed crucifixion scene, shot in Wade St Methodist Church Lichfield with Anthony Webster a convincing and compelling dying Christ. An honourable mention is also due to Neil Thorne’s Pontious Pilate acted out as a flouncy Game show host in a scene which begged for more time.
In an era of jukebox musicals it is a pleasure to see innovative, imaginative new work being commissioned and written. Credit and thanks should be offered to the Lichfield Mysteries and BBC Performing Arts Fund for their support, and to the Fired Up Theatre company for offering amateurs in the community the opportunity to be involved in a professional quality production.
At the Crossroads, Bible Burlesque and the Blues plays again tonight at 7.30pm.