The Gospel of Matthew – Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds

Stage and Church have been intrinsically linked over the centuries. Occasionally in conflict over content and ideology, there is also something overtly theatrical involved in many religious rites; the tradition the ceremony and the oration of the sermon all containing elements of performance.

In this Easter week, it is therefore perhaps appropriate that George Dillon brings his one man rendition of The Gospel of Matthew to the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds.

Dillon was apparently inspired to stage the show by a strange mix of Bob Geldof and Enoch Powell but, despite this unorthodox muse, it turns out to be a traditional staging.

Dillon is obviously an accomplished actor who commands the stage in a detailed performance. Without props or set, Dillon relies on a few simple sound effects and projections to add atmosphere.

Sadly the sum of the parts never add up. While performed with conviction it never frees itself from the feeling that one is watching a sermon rather than a theatrical performance.

Some of the ambiguity lies in the choice of video projection. While effective use of technology might well add depth and atmosphere to a production, here it distracts. Opening images of Aramaic text merging into Greek and finally English promise much but these initial hopes are dashed as subsequent imagery resembles a PowerPoint presentation or a series of hastily cobbled together media player visualisations.

The result is that we end up asking why? Yes, it’s a powerful performance but what is Dillon trying to tell us. If it is purely a recounting of the Gospel, why a theatrical production? If intended to show some alternative view, it fails to ignite that curiosity. For theatre to truly work it needs to stimulate, challenge or provoke and, regardless of particular beliefs, The Gospel of Matthew sheds little fresh light.

Perhaps in a church setting this sermon like staging would work but as a theatre show it needs more sophistication.

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