Shotgun Theatre has a history over the last couple of years of producing high quality and high energy term one shows. Following the huge sell out successes of The Wild Party and The Witches of Eastwick, Shotgun’s members chose Stephen Schwartz’s 1971 musical Godspell for the first show of the 2016/17 season. Lead by a strong creative team of directors in Joe Miller and Katherine Lea, choreographer Ortensia Fioveranti, musical director Beth King and vocal coach Rosie Peters, the show was a roaring success and many in the audience had a lump in their throats as the final notes of the show faded.
Godspell is one of the more unusual shows in any company’s repertoire. With a barely discernable plot, a run time of just under 90 minutes, and many songs that test the vocal range and skill of all performers, it is a show that looks better in practise than on paper. Based on the gospel of Matthew, Godspell uses songs and the dramatization of parables to study the life of Jesus. Miller’s vision for the show saw a group of misfits with their own ideas and ways of life, brought together by Jesus into a tightknit group of friends, with Judas as both part of the group and a literal outsider at many times.
The first unusual thing you notice about the show is the casting. With three men matching the seven women in the show, it was perhaps a little difficult to hear the tenor and bass harmonies in some moments but they made a bold effort to make their voices heard without it sounding forced. Emily Lafoy was the most controversial casting as Jesus. Dressed simply in a white dress and white plimsolls, she managed to balance leading the group and nurturing the ensemble to lead themselves. She was matched brilliantly by Harry Butterwick as Judas Iscariot, whose incredible vocals held together Prepare Ye and On The Willows. Well-developed characterisation allowed his alienation from the group to seem natural and the betrayal almost expected.
witty and rounded characters with their own story arcs
The two were boosted and complimented by a very strong ensemble. Each actor was given their own solo and the roles had been divided equally so no one seemed less important than another, echoing the lessons learnt by the characters in the show. Amongst others, Fergus Church seemed to effortlessly hit a top A in his solo and Kathryn Pridgeon, whose constant energy and enthusiasm was not overwhelming, was incredibly engaging and enjoyable to watch. The cast tackled the physical aspects of dance, movement and puppetry well, which is a testament to the hard work that has been put into it. What the show lacked in any kind of sense to the plot, it made up for in witty and rounded characters with their own story arcs. Where actors struggled with the radio microphones, they made up for in tight harmonies. It was noticeable where the music had been transposed for Lafoy’s natural soprano voice from the tenor range originally written for the actor playing Jesus, working beautifully for the majority of the show.
With a simple and effective set that allowed for maximum movement for the actors, beautiful lighting and sound design by Jack Dryden and Harry Barnes, and powerful performances from the cast, Godspell was undoubtedly a success on Shotgun’s part and a promising start to this year’s repertoire.
Catch Shotgun’s term two show, Made In Dagenham, at the Exeter Phoenix, 16th-19th January 2017. Tickets available from the Phoenix website.