EFR - Reviews of Jesus Camp: The Musical Comedy

Jesus Camp: The Musical Comedy

Thu 6th – Sun 30th August 2015

reviews

Rowena Henley

at 15:33 on 17th Aug 2015

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Following the intertwined tales of two pre-pubescent ‘tweens’, Lucy and Chad, attending ‘Sarah Chastity’s Christian Camp’ with completely different attitudes towards life and the Lord, Jesus Camp: The Musical Comedy made for a thoroughly entertaining afternoon.

This show was an enjoyable mixture of ingenious lyricism and tight dance routines, but it was also one with a fair few dud jokes and confusing plot twists. When taking on such a controversial topic, it is crucial for a performance to be as professional as possible in order for the irony and intelligence to work effectively. Sadly, Jesus Camp occasionally slipped into amateur territory and with this came the exposure of a thoroughly mature topic being taken on by a newly emerging theatre group.

Having said this, however, there were moments that dripped with satirical brilliance. Bible-bashing Lucy (whose character had the terrifying perkiness and infuriating piousness of Wicked’s ‘good witch’ Glinda) had certain lines which showcased a shrewd perceptiveness for the underlying humour within religious platitudes. A line about Jesus “touching” her and her response “it doesn’t have to make sense, its religion” were two particularly entertaining moments.

The show’s songs were truly inspired, with rhyme schemes coming from the craziest of places (‘Lord’ with ‘frogs by the hoard’, for example). I found it truly exciting that a company in its early stages of development produced such creative and hilarious musical pieces. Credit must go to Winston Eade, whose piano playing was intricate and flawless. Although there were a few pitching slips, Bethan Francis and Dan Peter Reeves performed with expressive vocals and projected with strength. Their dance routines were equally impressive. The performers’ American accents were a little dire at times, but this didn’t hinder the piece too much, as the style was very much tongue-and-cheek.

Audience interaction was employed brilliantly throughout the show. Lucy and Chad would condemn unassuming audience members to eternal damnation and tell them to turn away from their life on “hard drugs”, which added a lot to the humour of the performance.

Lighting and technical elements left much to be desired, however. The house lights were left on during the performance which created awkwardness. Even with regular audience inclusion, the auditorium (of sorts) should still have been in darkness in order to create a most professional theatrical atmosphere. The audio interjection of a radio station didn’t work too well. I couldn’t quite grasp the relevance of these interludes until quite late in the game and was subsequently confused for a long time about the progression of events.

Jesus Camp is a brilliantly crafted and fabulously fun production and, without a price tag, I see no reason not to give it a go.

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Dominic Spirra

at 15:58 on 17th Aug 2015

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Jesus Camp: The Musical Comedy, written by and starring the British Exist Theatre founders Bethan Francis and Dan Peter Reeves, presents a summer spent at Sarah Chastity’s Christian Camp for Kids. Lucy (Bethan Francis) begins as your typical Bible bashing American 12 year old: crucifix in hand, clad in an ‘I heart Jesus’ shirt and pigtails. The contrast between Lucy and Chad (Dan Peter Reeves) – an eleven-year-old militaristic self-confessed bad boy who has been sent to the camp following an abrupt exit from military school – is in itself amusing.

Chad looks like a character from Deliverance, conveying a somewhat frightening disposition. His opening remarks, that “when I take this place down I’ll kill you first”, were particularly startling and if Chad Foster isn’t the name of a high school mass-murderer, then I am not sure what is. Wandering thoughts of massacre aside, the visuals make for entertaining viewing, the stage completed by an energetic keyboardist (Winston Eade) who provides accompaniment and harmonies dressed as a priest.

The pair initially find each other repellent, however a predictable chemistry develops between them as their roles are reversed. Chad finds faith in the militaristic side of the bible, singing “build an army/ burn the sinners” with a slightly worrying relish and Lucy sings of her wavering faith in the face of her newfound lust for Chad.

Despite the fact the show struggles to maintain a coherent narrative, relying at times perhaps too much on pre-recorded voice overs to drive the story, the performances themselves are very funny. The songs are original and executed with an infectious energy that must be commended, married to some hysterical choreography.

Jesus Camp never quite hits its purported controversial stride, which is frustrating as the show is most entertaining in its more racy moments. Lucy explores her increasingly erratic sexuality with amusing fervour that culminates in the bizarre revelation “Jesus said I was dirty so I became a crack whore”.

The fact the audience were riveted for an hour with very little onstage other than the actors themselves is testament to the skill of the writing and performance. The near capacity audience laughed throughout and left grinning from this sweet and entertaining free musical, definitely worth an hour of your time.

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