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A CurtainUp London Review
Product: World Remix/What Would Judas Do?
by Neil Dowden
Ravenhill became one of the leading figures of the "in the yer face" British theatre explosion in the late nineties with his fashionably notorious play Shopping and Fucking, but had gone quiet until last year when he had no fewer than four shows staged in London. Product: World Remix was first produced by Paines Plough at the Edinburgh Festival in 2005, and this slightly longer version is once again directed by Lucy Morrison. As a satire on the film business intent on exploiting the post-9/11 terrorism scenario, it is mildly amusing and occasionally pointed, but overall is neither funny nor biting enough.
Ravenhill plays James, a film-maker who is trying to persuade A-list actress Olivia (the excellent, silent Jo Lobban) to star in his forthcoming movie Mohammed and Me, about a Twin Towers widow falling in love with an al-Qaeda terrorist involved in a plot to blow up Euro Disney. As he outlines the increasingly ridiculous and melodramatic story, supposedly a serious treatment of West meets East across the cultural divide, with lashings of sex and violence thrown in, it becomes clear that this is a dumbed-down blockbuster with a fake artistic veneer.
The trouble is the satire is as obvious as the fictitious film is over-the-top, with no real surprises or revelations. We get the point early on, and then the point is repeated until the end — a one-trick pony. Strangely, though from the crassness of the pitch, one would assume we are in Hollywood, the mentions of Heathrow and the London Docklands suggest otherwise, as does the English accent of Ravenhill, whose camply pretentious persona never really convinces.
Unlike Ravenhill, Stewart Lee is a highly experienced performer, as one of Britain's more thoughtful and subtle comics. He first made his name as part of a double act with Richard Herring in the early nineties, but more recently as co-writer and director of the award-winningly blasphemous Jerry Springer, The Opera, whose national tour was cut short due to aggressive campaigning by Christian fundamentalists. One feels that this experience lies behind What Would Judas Do?, another irreverent look at the gospel, with Lee determined not to be silenced.
Although it certainly challenges the orthodox account of Christ's mission, the show is hardly offensive as it presents an interestingly alternative view from the perspective of Judas, here in the guise of a revolutionary socialist. He claims that he was the one betrayed as Jesus failed to lead the people in an uprising against their Roman oppressors. Furthermore, he suggests that Jesus actively wanted Judas to hand him over to the authorities as the route to his martyrdom — without Judas, there may have been no crucifixion, and therefore no salvation for mankind.
What Would Judas Do? is a mixture of extended monologue and stand-up comedy, partly scripted and partly improvised, with Lee not only addressing the audience directly but encouraging interaction — those who respond are given bags of nuts, while others are brought on stage in a shambolic re-enactment of the Last Supper, with supermarket wine and bread. The way the other disciples are portrayed as a bunch of unthinking yes-men to the hippy-like Christ, in contrast with Judas's pragmatic questioning, is nicely done. But Lee is a quick-witted comedian rather than a character actor, and there is little sense of Judas as a person in his own right or of a drama unfolding before our eyes under Will Adamsdale's direction.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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