Review: ‘The Last Days of Judas Iscariot’ at the Fitzpatrick Hall
A thoroughly enjoyable seriocomedy on at the Fitzpatrick Hall in Queens’ this week
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is a seriocomedy by Stephen Adly Guirgis first staged in 2005, exploring the question of whether or not Judas Iscariot deserves to remain in hell. The play looks back at Judas’ betrayal from 2,000 years ago and invites figures from across history, ranging from saints to Satan to Sigmund Freud, to offer their thoughts on whether Judas committed the highest form of sin or was merely conforming to God’s plan.
Directors Louise Dai and Hannah Samuel-Ogbu have done a fantastic job in bringing this play to life, resulting in a stunning and thoroughly enjoyable performance. I felt that one of the strongest directorial decisions was that of using the galleries at the side of the Fitzpatrick Hall in addition to using the stage, so that characters could converse and argue across the auditorium rather than being wholly separate from the audience. The audience could be constantly kept alert by different characters appearing in different places and walking from the galleries through the auditorium to the stage as they talked, which added a sense of liveliness to the performance, as well as allowing the audience to feel more engaged and included in the case that was unfolding before them.
I felt that one of the weaknesses of this play itself was its being somewhat drawn out, the story being largely episodic, with different characters entering to be questioned by lawyers Cunningham and El-Fayoumy, then exiting, before another character entered to be questioned.
Despite this, however, my attention was constantly maintained by the admirable skill of the entire cast: every single actor played their character spot on, and it was a pleasure to see such talent on display, particularly for those who multi-roled and who were able to give clearly distinct performances for each of their characters. Each of the actors conveyed the humour of the piece very well, with many of the historical figures being reimagined in a variety of comical ways.
Personally, I found the performances of Marie-Ange Camara as Saint Monica and of Saul Bailey as Satan particularly engaging. Camara her character with a brilliant explosion of over-the-top energy, interacting a couple of times with audience members as she moved through the auditorium to the stage. In contrast to this, Bailey’s ability to portray Satan as a cool, calm and very humorous figure who has a surprisingly positive attitude to God bears witness to his skill as an actor.
This is not to say that the play was without its more serious moments, and the contrast between these and the comedy of the play was brought out very well. Rishi Sharma’s tormented Judas was incredibly believable, his physicality and manner of speaking both flawless as he interacted with Jesus. Sharma was able to transform the character of Judas spectacularly throughout different points in the performance from a loveable child to a drunken mess to a repenting and regretful figure, and it was wonderful to see the realism with which he conveyed the characteristics of each.
His characterisation left the audience with the thought-provoking question of whether Judas should indeed be condemned as a villain or whether he is in any way pitiable, inviting them to question what the court has been questioning throughout the play. It was an effective complement to the opening speech of the play by Katy Lawrence’s Henrietta Iscariot, Judas’ mother, whose love for her son made Judas seem a far more relatable and humanised character than he might otherwise have been.
The quality of the acting was accompanied very well by what was clearly a great deal of effort put in by the production team, and which paid off very well. Charley Ipsen’s set design turned the Fitzpatrick Hall into a realistic courtroom, with Judge Littlefield elevated above the other characters as he presided over the case, while each witness was seated on a chair in the centre of the stage, flanked on either side by the two lawyers and yet taking the narrative into their own hands through this staging.
The lighting and sound designs by Tungsten Tang and Anna-Maria Woodrow were also used masterfully in the show, with music adding to the ambience of the scenes in which it was played, and the lighting shifting the focus well between different characters and events on stage. There was relatively little use of blackouts between scenes, but when they did occur they often did not feel necessary, and left a few moments which interrupted the pacing of the show.
Audrey Briggs’ costume design worked wonders in adding to the play’s comedy. One highly memorable moment was seeing Theo Rooney’s Pontius Pilate enter dressed in a full-length Roman toga paired with sunglasses, as was seeing Saul Bailey’s Matthias of Galilee in an NYC baseball cap. Choices such as this made the play far more entertaining and helped to convey the time-bending nature of its plot.
To sum up, this fantastic production of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is a must-see show where the hard work of the cast and crew shines through in every moment. A truly splendid piece of work. 4.5/5 stars.
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot runs at the Fitzpatrick Hall until Monday 22 November. You can purchase tickets here.
All images credited to Maria Woodford.