GT Stage

Review: Corpus Christi

Hallelujah! We review Terrence McNally’s controversial retelling of the Gospel

In 1998, playwright Terrence McNally did the unthinkable: he made Jesus gay. Set in modern-day Texas, depicting Jesus and his disciples as a band of gay men, the play has received such endorsements as protests, death threats, numerous performance cancellations, and even a fatwa. But 15 troubled years on, OutFox Productions revive the play in an old London Docklands church.

It’s a travesty that the play’s “scandal” is what precedes it. This is because the layer of blasphemy is thin. Once you get passed it, any sense of gross indignation is wholly eclipsed by the fact that this is one of the most powerful and honest retellings of the Gospel out there, packing more punch that anything in Charlton Heston’s arsenal.

By modernising the setting, making Jesus gay is actually a device that really strengthens the fact that he was a societal outcast. It actually humanises him down to everyone’s level. Vulnerable yet supernatural, he’s one of us all. Furthermore, making Judas a spurned lover acting out of sexual jealousy adds real depth and intrigue to his role as the villain. But the universal message of God’s undying love and that all men are divine is augmented tenfold rather than sullied by McNally’s “perverse” version.

OutFox Productions have also created a tremendous production. Jing Ng’s sound design is exquisite, with music and sound rippling hauntingly underneath the action. And director John Fricker’s work with movement director Jennifer Jackson result in some commanding physical theatre and tremendous use of space. Actor Andro Cowperthwaite as Joshua also brilliantly plays the Messiah as a scared, unsure, but ethereal person, marking him as a stand-out member amongst what is otherwise a wholly very talented cast.

The only criticisms are with certain moments in the play itself. Tossing styles and themes about manically, it’s a heady all-American pantomime to the point of schizophrenia at times. Whilst it absolutely doesn’t detract from the Gospel’s message, it just makes for a little baffling viewing.

But whether you’re Christian, secularist, or other, in the hands of McNally and OutFox Productions, this version of the “greatest story ever told” is one of the most potent and affecting evangelicals you’ll ever witness, providing you approach it with an open mind.

GT gives this 4/5.

Corpus Christi is at The Space in London. For more information, please log on to The Space website.

Words: James Waygood (@GrumpyYoungGay)

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