Darkness Falls – John's Gospel

The Gospel of John is the most interesting of all the New Testament gospels. While the other synoptic gospels share material, over 90% of John’s Gospel is unique. It is also traditionally considered a ‘spiritual’ writing as opposed to the more historical writing of Matthew, Mark and Luke. It is interesting, then, that Saltmine choose to dramatise John’s gospel within the quiet, sacred confines of Palmerstone’s Place Church.

John’s story is told with conviction and, for those who believe, this is doubtless a wonderfully creative affirmation of their faith.

Darkness Falls takes the form of a play within a play: John has been imprisoned in a stereotypical labour camp for ‘sedition’, presumably for spreading the stories of his gospel. He quickly befriends his hardened cell-mates and begins to tell them the story of Christ, having them act out familiar biblical tales: water is turned into wine, Lazarus is raised from the dead and so on. Over the course of the action, the previously spiritually bereft prisoners are, completely unsurprisingly, won over by John’s tale and they slip into the roles he gives them with questionable speed and effortlessness.

There is nothing especially wrong with Darkness Falls: the actors acquit themselves well - especially Ben Kessell who, not put off by the stature of the role, plays Jesus with a warm sincerity. Occasional sung interludes are beautiful, if too infrequent. The set, all reclaimed wood, rope and industrial cages, does a decent job of conjuring up a believably dystopian prison camp – even if there’s nothing overly original or spectacular about it.

Equally though, there’s nothing that marks out Caroline Wilkes’ production as one to see either. We all know the story of Christ; it’s a good one, Richard Hasnip’s adaptation is completely straight and when the crucifixion inevitably arrives, it does so with great power. However, the Gospel directed by John isn’t staged overly inventively – it tells us a story we already know and it certainly doesn’t win anyone over to its religious cause.

Naturally this isn’t the aim of Darkness Falls, but it’s hard to tell what is. John’s story is told with conviction and, for those who believe, this is doubtless a wonderfully creative affirmation of their faith. For everyone else though, this is a moderately entertaining yet familiar piece about the power of scripture for those who seek it. The richness and uniqueness of John’s Gospel is sadly lost to the darkness.

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The Blurb

Tried, convicted and sentenced to a penal colony, John finds himself breaking rocks alongside killers and thieves – but John has a secret, John has a story and John’s story will change everything. Darkness Falls is the remarkable reimagining of the gospel of John, by the acclaimed Saltmine Theatre Company. Moving, funny, poetic and fantastical, the play mixes vivid storytelling with beautiful live music to bring you a timeless story as you’ve never seen it before.

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