Assembly George Square, Christianity, David Calvitto, Edinburgh Fringe, Jesus Christ, Judas by Toby Harris and Tim Marriot, Judas Iscariot, Smokescreen Productions, Stefanie Rossi, Theatre Review, Tim Marriott, Toby Harris
[The following contains spoilers.]
The Blue Room in Assembly George Square is a large, crude, wooden structure that looks as if it was thrown up overnight, like a scaffold. It is currently the venue for Toby Harris and Tim Marriott’s “Judas.”
The story is set in the present day, when Judas Iscariot has turned up again like a bad penny, and the setting is a Middle-Eastern country in which the Arab Spring is getting warmer. Jesus is a radical preacher who is pulling in large crowds out in the desert. Judas (Marriot) is a highly-placed follower who has been hauled in for questioning. David Calvitto and Stefanie Rossi play interrogators who, in uncomplaining accordance with the Orwellian cliché, use terror and torture scientifically, as precision levers of social control and manipulation.
Calvitto is a great actor but his virtue cannot alone redeem this play. There are soon problems crawling all over it like lice. Firstly, there is something painfully indelicate about putting an unspecified Middle-Eastern country on stage. No Fringe production would be today set so noncommittally in a European nation. The setting of “Judas” is vaguely discernible as Syria or Yemen, but from across the messy flotsam of these countries’ politics, one could nowhere pick out an inspiring leader who resembles Mahatma Gandhi or Nelson Mandela. This is possibly the reason why Syria and Yemen remain stuck in such a hopeless mess.
But a greater problem is that all of the nations that “Judas” could be set in are Islamic. And Jesus Christ is not recognised by the Islamic faith as being truly the son of God. If the Jesus in this story is potentially a personage who Islam could credit as being the genuine Messiah, then the historical figure who the play is so intently modelling him upon is, in the politest possible way, an imposter. In which case, this modern-day Jesus should surely appear far fresher or even more vivid than the old, Christian one.
The twist in this story is that Judas is not motivated by fear of torture or even the cash reward, but by a belief that Jesus’ arrest will guarantee a political uprising amongst the proletariat. The ostensible traitor emerges in the end as differing with Jesus on a point of theology rather than necessarily betraying him. I’m not sure which is worse. We will nonetheless perceive that Jesus’ compassion and forgiveness are less immediately practical than what Judas is offering, since they indirectly leave the regime in place. The torturer who is played by Calvitto may be unexpectedly humanised by witnessing Jesus’ suffering, but he also keeps his job.
Christ’s death was not an occasion for sorrow, since he had sacrificed himself to save mankind. Moreover, this was a gift freely given by God. Judas’ motivations are consequently an irrelevance. It does not matter what he thought or did. He was merely a soulless functionary or an implement that was wielded by divine power, in much the same way that the play’s torturers purely serve the needs of their state. Still, if the Bible itself was a Fringe play then I would have jumped upon exactly the same weakness in the characterisation.