Smokescreen Productions is supporting the work of Amnesty International through its new work, Judas, at Assembly Blue Room. Despite being intimately related to such a worthy cause, it still has to be seen as a play in its own right and reflected upon as a theatrical work.
Solid, impassioned performances.
As might be expected, the play has parallels with the life of Jesus and the circumstances of Judas Iscariot's betrayal of him. The context, however, is shifted to a contemporary, single-faith Middle Eastern state, beset with troubles from other religious groups and differing ideologies. The opening is heralded with video images of aerial gunfire and explosions indicating the unrest in the country. The same device is used in other places to heighten the imagery of the script or as a visual commentary. There is a radical preacher of peace roaming the country. He has so far eluded the authorities who are trying to track him down. A lecturer (Tim Marriott), who is one of his followers, enters the stage followed by a woman (Stefanie Rossi) who seats herself in the audience as we all become students listening to his increasingly controversial words. He is subsequently arrested, interrogated and tortured by the woman and another agent of the government (David Calvitto).
This is an original piece by Toby Harris and Tim Marriott with direction by Tony Knight. The concept is interesting but it’s execution lacks the intrigue that might be expected. The opening lecture gets the production off to a rather flat, slow start. Once under interrogation, the question of will he or won’t he tell them what they want to know and what will ultimately happen to him hangs in the air, but we know it’s the story of Judas. The questioning process is standard practice, alternating the soft and hard approaches of twin interrogators with threats to his family thrown in along with some torture. Within this setting the script, which occasionally has verses from the Bible and hints of T.S. Elliot in it, is largely unsurprising. It’s an insight into the brutality of regimes around the world, but the process has been portrayed far more vividly in many films. The cast of three works well together and they all give solid, impassioned performances.
Judas is interesting rather than compelling, but still makes an important statement about human rights and the violence perpetrated by states on groups and individuals in a world increasingly beset with such issues.