The Devil's Passion

It's hard to imagine a grander or more fitting venue for Justin Butcher's one-man interpretation of The Passion (presumably referencing the unfinished Milton ode rather than the overwrought Gibson movie) than St. Peter's Cathedral.

The undeniably controversial take on the familiar tale recasts Jesus as Yeshu'a Ibn Al Yosef (Joshua, son of Joseph in a mixture of Hebrew and Arabic), a dangerous religious fanatic hell-bent (sorry) on overthrowing the Roman status quo. The story is told from the perspective of Satan, who is played as an counter-terrorism official tracking the movements of this dangerous radical. It's a unique spin on the religious canon that is both topical and insidiously clever.

Butcher clearly has the writing chops (sorry again) to back up the bold approach, too. He weaves lyrical flights of prose and poetry into the performance that marry well with his animated portrayals of famous Judaeo-Christian figures. The story is framed against some of the more famous of the parables of Jesus' life, such as that of the Good Samaritan, or the miracle of the feeding of the masses. Butcher's interpretation compares these tales against the theological 'gates of sin' that one must pass through to ascend out of hell and into salvation; an ingenious narrative working that comments on ideological indoctrination.

His performance is compelling, portraying the insidious needling of Satan as effortlessly as the other-worldly grace of the Son of David. He makes full use of his scant collection of props, including an inspired employ of a red sash that would make the habitual daytime visitors of the cathedral succumb to a fit of the vapours. In that vein, I must commend St. Peters for their bravery in hosting such a heretical take on their hallowed lore. What good sports.

The Devil's Passion takes topical issues confronting our society and inserts them into a familiar tale to force us to rethink our perspectives on these ideas. Well-written, well-acted and just downright fun at times, this is a play that anyone with even the vaguest interest in the role of religion in society must see.

Just maybe dress light and bring a fan, as our steamy performance gave new meaning to the phrase, "hotter than a sinner in church".

★★★★