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God Only Knows
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|Heresy comes from the Greek "¢airesqai" which means act of choosing. Heresy means thinking for yourself. Orthodoxy means thinking what you have been told to believe.
Hugh Whitemore writes excellent plays and with an actor of Derek Jacobi's quality, our expectations are high. I was not disappointed with . Whitmore's new part thriller and part one man's philosophy of religion. It requires some imagination to credit conspiracy theory but the mystery is not being sure, not knowing whether you are listening to a sane man driven to distraction by persecution or one who is merely demented.
God Only Knows is set in Italy where four British holiday makers are enjoying a quiet game of monopoly on the terazza of their holiday villa in Tuscany. A screech of car brakes and a crash of windscreen glass heralds the arrival of Humphrey Biddulph (Derek Jacobi) dressed in pyjamas, slippers and an ungainly baseball jacket. Biddulph, an expert in ancient manuscripts relates a tale that concludes that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was manufactured by the Romans to keep the Jews in check by encouraging the "cult of Jesus" because Jesus preached "Love thy Enemy". Biddulph disclosed his finding to the authorities, was locked up in a secure hospital from where he has escaped.
The hinge of the play is whether Biddulph can convince the four people of his genuineness. Much of the play is monologue from Biddulph, as he is the expert on ancient sources who presents the argument that Christianity is just an anaesthetic. The counter arguments are of necessity thin. They have to be as Biddulph's arguments are so scholarly and well researched by Whitemore. One woman cites blind faith, another believes in a judgement day where she will have to answer for her wrongdoing. The Roman soldier writes in his letter that "before very long Jesus of Nazareth will be worshipped as widely as Jupiter or Mars." Whitemore's play offers an excellent basis for stimulating discussion. The question today is how long before Christianity is equated with the worship of Jupiter.
Derek Jacobi has been interviewed extensively about his dreadful stage fright. It makes him physically sick before each show. It is all the more remarkable that he gives a great performance as the bearded academic. With his round face and Beatles haircut he is nervous and drawn into a very frightening situation. The supporting performances are also very good: David Yelland as Charles Minto, the authority male, trying to control the proceedings. . . Richard O'Callaghan as the laid back writer, Vin Coker. . . Margot Leicester as the writer's wife Margo, churchgoer and believer. . . Francesca Hunt as Charles' young, attractive second wife.
Anthony Page directs at a fast and enthralling pace. John Gunther's Tuscan set is old terracotta flag stones and tall cypresses in the background, the lighting changing as the evening darkens. It is a straightforward play, no innovations of design or staging but one I found deeply satisfying and engaging with an exciting finale.
GOD ONLY KNOWS
Written by Hugh Whitemore
Directed by Anthony Page
Starring: Derek Jacobi
With: David Yelland, Margot Leicester, Francesca Hunt, Richard O'Callaghan
Design: John Gunther
Lighting Design: Peter Mumford
Sound Design: John Leonard
Running time: Two hours ten minutes with an interval
Box Office: 020 7836 9987
Booking to 9th June 2001
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 20th March 2001 performance at the Vaudeville Theatre The Strand London WC2
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