Godspell

Fri 4th – Sat 19th August 2017

reviews

Kathryn Tann

at 12:15 on 9th Aug 2017

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I entered this performance knowing that ‘Godspell’ was not one of my favourite musicals. I left it feeling more or less the same way about the show itself, but admiring the very talented cast of Exeter’s Shotgun Theatre nevertheless. Tebelak’s ‘Godspell’ is a stylised re-imagining of the Gospel of Matthew, and though it may be more enjoyable to one who knows the stories well, you needn’t be religious to appreciate its themes, nor the impressive score.

As the show opened, we were met with an unpromising song (probably my least favourite of the show) accompanied by clumsy movement. However, it was clear that this cast could sing. And indeed, as each member took their turn to show off their voice throughout the performance, the standard seemed to just climb and climb. The choreography did improve, and involved numerous innovative ways of navigating the challenges of an audience on three sides. There were some incredibly creative elements to some of the numbers, and great visual ways of enhancing the stories being told. Shadows were used, group puppetry, and lots of physical theatre (made very slick by the ensemble).

The most effective use of movement was, for me, when the character of Jesus was lifted above the head of the disciples with seeming effortlessness, and glided across the stage. The effect was quite ethereal, made more effective by blue lighting and unusual music. The scene culminated in one of the most moving moments of the play, and one of my favourite musically, as an electric guitar played under the symbolic crucifixion.

Emily Lafoy, who played Jesus, should be commended for her ability to play what is undoubtedly a very difficult role, and I wholly approve of the decision to cast the character with gender blindness. It worked well to enhance the themes of universal acceptance and inclusivity within the play. However, I would not place Lafoy as the strongest member of the cast, with certain other individuals standing out more during their own songs (Butterwick, for instance, playing Judas). This may well be because her parts were made more challenging by their originally being written for a male voice, meaning (I imagine) they would have to have been shifted significantly higher in order to still fit with the band’s score.

The costume choices for ‘Godspell’ worked, but were not perfect. I found it difficult to tell if they were supposed to be dressed as children or not, especially as for the majority of the performance the cast had exaggerated child-like mannerisms. This was a directorial choice I was not particularly fond of, as I felt it portrayed ‘the people’ in a somewhat patronising manner.

‘Godspell’ is not necessarily every viewers cup of tea, especially those who prefer the less ‘cheesy’ musicals. However, Shotgun Theatre have created a show worth watching for the sake of their expert handling of the score. Though you may not leave the theatre humming all the songs, cast, Musical Director and band should all be congratulated for creating by far the most powerful, and the most emotional moments of the show.

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Chloe Moloney

at 13:17 on 9th Aug 2017

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The University of Exeter’s Shotgun Theatre Company have crafted a buzzing and lively performance of ‘Godspell’, which they describe as a ‘dynamic reimagining of the Gospel of Matthew’. Following a gender-blind casting process, each cast member brought a unique and endearing gift to the table: whether it be fizzing dance moves or unparalleled vocal talent.

The choreography of ‘Godspell’ is well conducted and executed. With Broadway-style dancing and composition, the physicality of this performance fitted the clichéd preconceptions of musical theatre. Musically, this production is nearly faultless. With a live band on stage, the skill of the musicians undoubtedly added another commendable dimension to this production. Mellow, rich voices swelled in the room and jazzy riffs were belted out effortlessly.

For quite a serious and sensible thematic structure, however, the interweaving of comedic strands into this performance was attempted and not necessarily achieved. Several jokes and glimmers of humour were extinguished and not played to their full potential. This particular musical additionally does not to have a narrative thread or much of a plotline to follow, and instead appears to be a collection of performative parables, making the show lag in places. The technical elements of this performance were effective, yet basic, with the occasional spotlight and change of block colours over the stage. There was not much of a set, save a few cargo-style boxes at the back of the stage, nonetheless this may have detracted from the crux of the performance. The fast-paced musical numbers were undeniably tackled boldly; however the cast were left tripping over their words and clarity was lost under the racing drum kit. This was somewhat pardonable due to the sheer talent in the group. The production also claims to be ‘not just about faith’, but about ‘love, hope and finding friendship.’ Yet, these latter few elements seem to have fallen through the gaps of the religious content and did not chiefly stand out as crucial or vital facets of this production.

The Jesus figure in this production (Emily Lafoy) nevertheless was impeccable and unsurprisingly most angelic, and how such an immense voice can escape from such a petite actress is beyond belief. She led the group with a degree of grace and elegance that was fitting for her role and she was a refreshing, stimulating member of the cast. Regardless of the content of this musical, which may not be suited to everyone’s taste, Shotgun Theatre Company produced an accomplished and polished performance of ‘Godspell’ irrespective of several cracks in the production.

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