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Jesus: The Guantanamo Years
Published on Wednesday, 05 May 2010

In a crown of thorns and an orange jumpsuit, Jesus bounds up to the mic – before revealing that the Catholic mass is all a gag gone wrong.  In performer Abie Philbin Bowman’s parallel world, the Son of God is a stand-up comedian and, as if that wasn’t enough, a recent internee at Guantánamo Bay.  He debates the practicalities of crucifixion, and muses on Sharia law.  And then, just when you think it couldn’t get any riskier… the action shifts to Belfast!

But it’s wrong to dismiss this show as controversy for controversy’s sake.  The opening half had plenty to say, based around the entertaining (and alarmingly credible) hypothesis that much of Christian practice was originally intended as a joke.  It’s a highly-intelligent, thought-provoking routine, which elegantly compares biblical stories to the modern-day cult of celebrity.  And it’s a compliment to the sincerity of the piece that you’ll need a working knowledge of the New Testament to truly follow along.

Ironically, though, the plot development which gives the show its name worked much less well for me.  It’s another great idea: Jesus, a self-professed Middle Eastern martyr, is arrested at US immigration and thrown in Guantánamo Bay.  But the concept goes AWOL after that; aside from a few appearances by heavenly angels, most of the rest of the story could be about anyone who found themselves incarcerated there.  At some point in the creation of this show, justified anger about the abuses at Guantánamo has taken over, and the inherent comedy of the ridiculous situation has fallen aside.

This isn’t to say, of course, that we shouldn’t have a show about Camp Delta; on the contrary, I left feeling more than ever that one is urgently required.  But while the provocative earlier material led to some genuine insights, the Guantánamo part told me little I didn’t already know.  I felt, too, that there was a bit too much padding – including a tenuous explanation of why Jesus has a Dublin accent, and a slightly incongruous clap-along parody to the tune of We Will Rock You.

Don’t get me wrong: there was a lot I enjoyed about this show.  Even the second half was peppered with the odd delightful image, the controversy serves its purpose and, for me at least, it kept on the right side of all the truly uncrossable lines.  So I’m sad to have to report that I felt it lost its way; but there’s no end of potential here, and I’m left feeling anxious to take in some more of the many shows Abie Philbin Bowman is bringing to this year’s Fringe.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.