Godspell

Godspell is a very strange show. It’s full of some of the best songs ever written in musical theatre, but the scenes that surround it are unsurprisingly very preachy, and in a way that’s often very dull. Much of it is confusing and hard to follow, without really taking much time out to explain itself. Shotgun Theatre’s production doesn’t really engage with these problems so much as it avoids them. It recognises the show’s strengths, and puts all its effort into making those strengths as strong as they can be. But in avoiding the weaknesses, they become much more pronounced.

As entertaining as the songs may have been, they did not make the rest of the show’s problems disappear.

The show opens with a series of philosophers discussing the nature of God, until they disperse, and we’re given an image of Judas Iscariot attempting to preach the word of God. He meets Jesus Christ, and they amass a set of disciples, and set to teaching a series of parables. The structure follows a pattern. Jesus or the disciples will act out a story and explain a parable, then they will all sing a song about it, rinse and repeat. This creates two distinct chunks of the show – the stories and the songs. The songs for the most part are exceptional. Each one is inventively choreographed, brilliantly well sung, and a joy to watch. I was especially impressed by All Good Gifts; by far my favorite song in the show with a challenging vocal part.

However, when we move away from the songs, the cracks begin to show. While the parables and the stories are often entertaining, they are rarely engaging, and this is a problem. While the cast does a good job with making ad libs and interjections funny and likeable, they’re distractions from the main storytelling pieces, which tended to be flat in their delivery and their visuals. The earnestness found in the songs, where there was a sense of faith and belief in all the disciples, didn’t exist in the storytelling, which tended to undermine the point of the show. This all compounded to make the scenes between the songs the least enjoyable part, to the point where I began thinking ‘When are they going to get back to the songs?’. The production also struggles to punctuate the more significant moments and the lack of an intermission makes its most important one fall by the wayside. Vocally the performances were secure, but the acting needs further work. The set and tech were fine; nothing offensive but nothing to write home about. 

A lack of engagement with Godspell’s structural issues, in the end, prevented the show from reaching its heights. As entertaining as the songs may have been, they did not make the rest of the show’s problems disappear.

Reviews by Miles Hurley

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

One voice unites a community. Not just about faith, Godspell is a vibrant and compelling musical about love, hope and finding friendship. A triumph of gender blind casting, Shotgun Theatre presents a dynamic reimagining of the Gospel of Matthew.

Following a sell-out run in our beautiful city, the University of Exeter’s award-winning theatre company are taking on the Fringe. This production will warm your heart with its endearing characters, colourful staging and infectious score. Performed in the round by a powerful ensemble, live band and featuring chart topping music by Stephen Schwartz, Godspell is the perfect family show.