Son of Man tells a reimagined story of Jesus (Yeshua) and the events leading up to the beginning of his ministry. In this re-telling, Yeshua (played by baby-faced Calvin Crawley) is not born of a virgin; rather, he is the product of an extra-marital affair between his mother and a Roman. He has blond hair and blue eyes and the whole town knows he isn’t 100% Jewish stock; jibed at and ostracised from the local community for much of his upbringing. His so-called father is dead and his mother Mary (Mariam), played by Claire-Monique Martin is struggling to feed her family due to the heavy taxes levied by the Romans. Mariam turns to Ishtar (Thalia Anagnostopoulou) who offers her a solution to her problem. But how far is Mariam prepared to go to provide for her family?
Ishtar is an educated whore – well versed in all the gods yet bowing to none – and would much prefer to preach like exiled priest, Eli (Michael Musa Idris). At one point Eli pokes fun at her ambition calling her a philostitute which is probably the best line in the play. Thalia does a good job of playing this ethereal role and her lines give various references to Greek antiquity, invoking the classical Cassandra, Demeter and Persephone amongst others at various points in the story.
Lysander, played by Zack Polanski, is a scholar from the Ancient Library of Alexandria (or maybe they just called it the Library back then) who is travelling with a satchel full of religious texts in search of knowledge about the gods. Lysander encounters Eli, becomes fascinated by the Hebrew God, JHWH, and his people and – under Eli’s instruction – sets out to become a Jew. As their relationship deepens, they being to form their own interpretation of religion and contemplate how they can bring a form of Judaism to the masses. The pivotal moment in the story is where Eli tells Lysander that as a gentile he can’t sacrifice animals to clean himself before God and asks, if that is the case, whose blood will cleanse the gentiles? Then they meet Yeshua, convulsing on the floor following a beating and supposedly possessed by a demon older than the Hebrew God himself…
The Bread and Roses Theatre is a fairly new space in the heart of Clapham. Unfortunately, the staging of Son of Man highlights that it is effectively just an upstairs room of the pub with a few disco lights dotted around. Trying to perform the play in the round was a brave creative decision that was well executed, however due to the tiny room it meant the audience were uncomfortably staring at each other for two and a half hours.
The set was pretty non existent apart from a few boxes which were moved into different positions to demonstrate the change of scenes. This was a nice idea but became tedious to watch and could have shaved twenty minutes off of the running time if removed from the play. The acting was fairly am-dram but there were some nice moments from Claire-Monique Martin as mother Mariam.
Son of Man has a good story (if you can manage to follow it) but unfortunately needs to be modernised in order to appeal to the regular theatre-going crowd. The confusing script assumes that people will know things like ‘Mariam’ means ‘Mary’ and ‘Yeshua’ means ‘Jesus’ but unfortunately I don’t think they do, which will lead to confusion unless they can put the pieces of the story together as they go along.
Reviewed by West End Wilma
Son of Man is playing at the Bread and Roses until 13 June 2015. Click here for more information and to book tickets.