Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Review The Inn At Lydda

The Inn At Lydda
by John Wolfson

Citizen Caesar

Ah, better late than never, TLT and her automotive sidekick had the immense pleasure of attending for the first time the Sam Wannamaker Playhouse the intimate wood-panelled, candle-lit indoor theatre adjacently attached to the main Globe theatre.

The occasion was The Inn At Lydda, a 1999 play by American John Wolfson -  picking up from a hint in  New Testament Apocrypha - which imagines a meeting between the emperor Tiberius (Stephen Boxer) and Jesus (Samuel Collings) at a Judean hostelry.

Influenced by Jean Giraudoux's La Guerre De Troie N'Aura Pas Lieu (an A level set text for TLT which has entered her thoughts lately as being due a modern translation!), the play even more obviously is a Shavian-like riff with traces of Shakespeare with echoes near the end of Chekhov. But you don't need to know all this to enjoy the mix of serious reflection and light touch Pythonesque/Carry On humour.

The three wise men, Balthasar (Richard Bremmer), Caspar (Joseph Marcell) and Melchior (Kevin Moore) have been on the road for thiry three years and now find themselves once again about to encounter Jesus, an  "old friend in trouble".

 The word resurrection is never used - there are only ambiguously supernatural or magical events with simple but effective use of the beeswax candle chandeliers rising and falling and often subtle music composed by Nick Powell..

Jesus is also the object of the despotic but dying Emperor Tiberius's voyage. The Imperial ruler has left his island retreat, dragging along his physician cum astronomer cum magician Thrysullus (David Cardy) in the hope that the Judean healer will give him a new lease of life.

Here, there and roundabout lurks the dark brooding red-swathed figure of apostle John (Matthew Romain) swinging round the pillars, not bringing the good news of the Gospel but the dire apocolyptic predictions of Revelations.

Yet everyone is cut adrift by the actions of one Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem who has carried out run of the mill executions to stop perceived threats to the Roman Empire. Everyone except Caligula (Philip Cumbus) who like some latter day pop star is doing a "singing tour of Europe", ordering sex on tap from both sexes and waiting for his chance to fill Tiberius's sandals and be "elected" by the Senate.

It could have been a heavy handed clunky mix of the serious and the comic. Yet it's directed iwth a delicate touch by Andy Jordan and somehow works in a fluent production which manages to bring tension to pre-destined events including in the words of the play "the come back" of Jesus.

At the same time, there's enough clarity,  characterfulness and coherence in the carefully-crafted text to bring thoughtfulness, reversals and conundrums with a distinctly modern tinge. It may be a slight play but it's an amber/green light for an enjoyable and thoughtful evening. 

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