Arcola Queer Collective: Corpus Christi A must see play for lovers of queer theatre

Watching a live performance on stage, the audience being up close and personal, can be exciting and electrifying, more intense than a Netflix binge series, playing the latest Xbox game, or watching a 3D Marvel Comic movie.

That is why, if you have any nights free this week until Saturday March 10th I urge you to see Arcola Queer Collective’s revival of Corpus Christi by Terrence McNalley.  This is the ‘notorious’ 1998 play that features a love affair between ‘Jesus’ and ‘Judas’ – yeah that one; the one that got all those fundamental Christians picketing theatres and issuing death threats – all very ‘love thy neighbour’ and ‘turn the other check’.

In fact, these messages of unconditional love and acceptance are central to Nicholas Connaughton’s queered version of Corpus Christi. The cast crackle and fizz – Nicholas expertly coaxing a range of comic turns and searing emotions from this engaging and likeable cast of 13. He succeeds, also, in rallying the company to tell two interweaving stories – one assumes the audience knows well, the Passion of Christ, and the other a modern day queer coming of age story in a deeply conservative and intolerant society, caused by, irony of ironies – religion.

The premise is a group of Queer Corpus Christi, Texas, residents put on the play of the life of Christ while intercutting the modern day story.

Elijah W Harris’s Jesus/Joshua - the pivotal role - deftly conveys a contrasting range of emotions.  There is the vulnerability of the timid boy becoming aware of being gay, the aura surrounding him as the Messiah, the son of God, the saviour of mankind, and even a streak of petulance, annoyed at the pettiness of people and their failure to ditch prejudice and bigotry.

The device of introducing, (baptising), each cast member as a disciple, Jesus and Judas, in turn by John The Baptist, an exuberant Rubyyy Jones, is a great way to ensure that each has an individual personality and presence. The overall effect wonderfully show-cases the diverse talent that is the Queer Collective. Each performer is able to create captivating character vignettes: Alex Britt menacingly channelling James Dean/Satan; Alyx Stone, a powerful stage presence, insinuating into Jesus/Joshua’s life desperate to be loved; the trio of homophobic high school bully boys, convincingly kicked into life, by Tallulah Haddon, Jo Jackson and Kleopatra Andreou.

The Queer Collective prides itself in nurturing and bringing on talent that include theatre trained performers, veterans of previous productions and never acted before first timers.

This production features two newcomers who show great stage presence. Wilson Armour, as well as disciple Andrew, conveys comic bewilderment as the Virgin Mary and the smarminess as the compere at the High School Prom. Second, introducing Nicholas Massie - hustler (with ankle bells on), violinist, pompous Pontus Pilate, disciple, a great all-rounder addition to the Queer Collective.

Solid professional performances come too, from Giovanni Bienne (great fun, as at turns a butch Joseph and a less than butch hairdresser), Anca Vaida (Bartholomew, showing flashes of passion and helplessness as Bartholomew trying to heal the sick in an unforgiving world), Sade Marie (a strong portrayal as Matthew the corporate lawyer who gives it all away). Rounding out the cast is Alice Poli (a heart touching bride/groom in the gay wedding ceremony). 

The staging is minimal but effective. Exposed brick wall, neon crucifix, strip lighting and a sound track of pulsing disco and street sounds (some created by the cast) conjure up ancient Judea and modern day South Texas.

Finally, another word about Nick Connaughton. This directorial effort is a fitting farewell piece. He leaves the Arcola as Associate Producer and co-founder of the Queer Collective, taking up a new position as Head of Theatre for The Pleasance in Islington and at Edinburgh Fringe.

Corpus Christi is a play that speaks to the ideas and aims of the Queer Collective: a dialogue with the audience about what it is to be queer today; an opportunity for queer performers of all levels of experience to come together to perform to the best of their abilities.

Nick has done a superb job, both in this play and over the last four years. As an alumni at the Queer Collective and indeed who’s acting debut was under Nick’s direction, I wish him all the best for the future and much love. Thank you for making a queer performer out of me!  

Words: Stuart Honey, Arcola Queer Collective Member

Photo credit: Ali Wright Theatre Photography






Get your tickets for Arcola Queer Collective: Corpus Christi

Arcola Queer Collective: Corpus Christi
Arcola Theatre, London
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