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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot

If you want the Carpenters then Heaven is your place, if you want to rock, then Hell . . . . — Satan
The Last Days of Judas Iscario
Douglas Henshall as the Devil
(Photo: Hugo Glendinning)
Such is the success of Rupert Goold at the moment you could be forgiven for thinking he has made some kind of pact himself with the Devil. Fresh from winning awards for his direction of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Goold tackles Stephen Adly Guirgis’ play The Last Days of Judas Iscariot for Headlong, the company for which he is Artistic Director. This continues Headlong’s interest in damnation following on from Goold’s Paradise Lost and Dr Faustus (see links below) At London’s Almeida, the Guirgis play gets a wonderful production so that even the difficult scenes do not become tedious.

Amanda Boxer opens with such impressive emotion as the mother who has lost her son, I was wondering why she wasn’t on the list of those British actresses who have been granted a damehood. She knows how to convey great emotion in her deep, dusty register without mawkishness and keeping well away from sentiment. Her words stay with you, "No mother should have to bury a child. No mother should have to bury a son." She reminds us that whatever else he was, he was her son. She gives the play a strong poetic opening as she describes Judas’ birth and the change many women feel as they become a mother.

Much of the production has Judas (Joseph Mawle) obviously suffering, often on his knees looking immensely troubled, sometimes catatonic and so contrite. I wasn’t up to speed on the function of all the witnesses. I was especially lost on the relevance of Sigmund Freud (Josh Cohen) or Mother Theresa (Doba Croll) and I found some of the street saints hard to relate to but the author’s point is well made that these saints would not have started in a saintly way and that Saint Peter would have been a real fisherman and Saint Matthew a despised collector of revenue. But these are tiny grizzles in the scheme of things.

Now we know for sure the Devil wouldn’t be seen dead in Prada, he is a Gucci man who takes pilates classes and Dougie Henshall’s handsome, sophisticated and intelligent Satan is a frightening adversary for even the most powerful of opponents. Susan Lynch’s defence attorney Fabiana is strong and courageous but Satan knows all her weak points and can bring even this outstandingly gutsy woman to her knees. Mark Lockyer is Yusef El-Fayoumy, the shallow Egyptian lawyer in an oversized, excessively shoulder padded suit, with loads of polyester detail and an oily lounge lizard personality to go with his two tone shoes, whom Satan destroys in two short sentences.

Anthony Ward’s set is bright and modern with the courtroom below and on the balcony appear some of the witnesses and the words "In God We Trust". Slate is scattered over the stage and a coal hole allows Satan to emerge from the fire, smoke and brimstone of Hell, immaculate in his designer white jacket. There is much to amuse in this play despite the seriousness of its message. Cheap cracks like Pontius Pilate in golfing tweed knickerbockers (Ron Cephas Jones) being asked by Yusef whether he is a licensed pilot abound and Pilate describes Judea as the "armpit of the empire". From a light beginning Satan drives his vicious points home and the contrast with the simple love of Jesus (Edward Hogg) towards his enemies is inescapable. This is a much better way of passing your time than thinking about The Da Vinci Code!

Judas Iscariot in New York
Paradise Lost

The Last Days of Judas Iscariot
Written by Stephen Adly Gurgis
Directed by Rupert Goold

Starring: Douglas Henshall, Susan Lynch, Mark Lockyer, Amanda Boxer, Ron Cephas Jones, Joseph Mawle
With: Dona Croll, Corey Johnston, John Macmillan, Jessika Williams, Poppy Miller, Shane Attwooll, Josh Cohen, Gawn Grainger, Edward Hogg
Design: Anthony Ward
Lighting: Howard Harrison
Composer and Sound: Adam Cork
Video and Projection Design: Lorna Heavey
A joint Headlong and Almeida production
Sponsored by Coutts
Running time: Two hours 55 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7359 4404
Booking to 10th May 2008
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 3rd April 2008 performance at The Almeida, Almeida Street, London N1 (Tube: The Angel)

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