Spotlight’s production of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, began with a fantastic array of comedic genius as the audience is transformed into an American courtroom audience, witnessing the trials and tribulations of purgatory. The play follows the courtroom debate over the fate of Judas Iscariot - the Bible’s most famous betrayer, who sold out Jesus for a bag of silver. The play considers the conflict between divine mercy and human free-will, questioning why Judas is condemned to hell if God is all-forgiving.
The Bierkeller theatre was the perfect stage for the courtroom with its low and large two tiered audience, allowing actors to enter through the centre row for a dramatic entrance. Set designers Alice Ruben and Helen Uren, made apt use of the stage which consisted of the judge’s bench centre stage and several desks, where actors sat and drank awaiting their cue. All surfaces were littered with alcohol, adding to the sense of idle waiting as whilst the fate of those at the stand were made, those making up the court remained slightly intoxicated, still questioning the existence of God.
Directed by Akshay Khanna, the play features fourteen actors, making up the complexity of Judas’ case, through several witness scenes and well-time flashbacks, which on the whole was executed with fluidity and comedy, giving depth to Judas (played by Hugh Lawrence), who spent the majority of the first act in a catatonic state of despair.
What gave the play such comedy and entertainment was the chemistry between the bilious judge Frankie Littlefield (played by Mhairi Angus) and her sycophantic, ditsy bailiff (played by Hannah McLeod), who at one point was ordered to get Satan himself to the stand. Also, the frivolous banter between the defence attorney Fabiana Aziza Cunningham (played by Rebecca Kent) and prosecutor Ysef Akbar Wahed Al Nassar Gamel El Fayoume (played by Sam Toller), was a joy to watch and uplifted the plays serious subject matter. Cunningham, equipped with a strong Brooklyn accent, maintained her role superbly, interrogating with confidence and control historically prominent witnesses, including a senile and partially deaf Mother Teresa (played by Anna Rathbone). The use of historical characters was a brilliant addition, providing audiences with a lot to laugh about. However, some of these scenes in particular felt too outstretched, at times deducing the character’s original charm and humour.
By far the most well executed comedy came from Saint Monica (played by Isabella Fink) who strutted on stage, showcased her fierce attitude as a Saint not to be reckoned with. It was a hilarious addition and uplifted the first act of the play, revamping the importance of Saint’s with sass.
However, it was the second half of the play that lacked the comedic polish and charm that shone through so strongly at the start. Arthur Godden’s portray of Satan was effectively charming as he entered the play with a backdrop sound of AC/DC ‘A Highway to Hell’. Though due to the script’s heavy use of gratuitous swearing, his satanic portrayal quickly shifted away from seductive charm and ingenious one liners, leaving little room for comedic relief. Moreover as the script became convoluted with swearing, as the play drew to a close it seemed actor’s veered towards shouting when delivering lines, making multiple lines incomprehensible and line slip-ups more noticeable.
The ultimate scene between Jesus and Judas felt too sudden and randomly placed at the end of play. Providing audience’s with a heartfelt plea for Judas not to turn to despair. The final appearance of Satan gave the play a surprisingly sinister ending, deducing the original light-hearted flair that the first act achieved.
Overall, an enjoy production that left audience’s entertained, bewildered and wondering when Jesus got a pub t-shirt.