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BWW Review: ADELAIDE FRINGE 2017: THE DEVIL'S PASSION at St. Peter's Cathedral

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Tuesday 7th March 2017

Justin Butcher made several trips to the Adelaide Fringe with his remarkable play, Scaramouche Jones, repeated here by popular demand. His latest play, The Devil's Passion, or Easter in Hell, written and performed by himself and directed by Guy Masterson, is bound to be another that he is begged to bring again.

A man in a suit, with an air of considerable authority, stands at a rostrum. Sandbags are piled at the front and sides of the small stage and a camouflage netting screen is behind him, along with a flag. He proudly announces that the leader of a Middle Eastern group of disruptive religious militants, who has been sought for a long time, will be in their hands within the hour. This leader argues against the government, decries the excesses of the church, and is amassing followers to his ideas. The threat to the government will be reduced with his capture. The rhetoric is horribly familiar.

Is this a story of Al Qaeda's leader, Osama bin Laden? Could it be about Saddam Hussein? Is it a leader of one of the many other terrorist organisations in the region? No. It is Y'shua Bar-Yessuf. Who, you might ask? That is his Hebrew name; we know him better by his Latin name. We are being taken back in time. The terrorist is Jesus, known as the Christ. The Romans are the government of the day and the prevailing religion is Judaism. Our orator is the Devil, seeking to bring him down.

"Within the next hour, our operatives will isolate, engage and capture or kill the notorious leader of the most extreme, dangerous and contagious ideology to emerge in the modern era, whose terror activities represent the gravest threat to our interests across the region and the wider world. I refer, of course, to the radical preacher and populist demagogue Y'shua Bar-Yessuf - the man known, by way of shorthand to our operatives, as 'Jesus'."

Butcher's research, imagination, and reinterpretation of biblical stories from the life of Jesus, beginning before his birth, through to his crucifixion, are nothing short of outstanding. Masterson's incisive direction reveals a light hand on the production, working with Butcher to create a brilliant piece of theatre that will stay with you for a very long time. There also some very clever external references dotted here and there within the narrative.

I sat in the very front pew and the immense impact of Butcher's performance was palpable, with moments so strong that one actually felt a part of the action and had a desire to respond. That happens very rarely in the theatre but, when it does, it is wonderfully overwhelming.

Whether or not you are a Christian, a follower of another religion, or even a non-believer, matters nothing. The genius of this production is what will capture your imagination and your attention, that and the incredible performance. It doesn't get better than this.

I hope that you have your tickets for this sensational work; it is definitely not to be missed. If there is one production in the Adelaide Fringe this year that will be spoken of with awe for years to come, this is sure to be the one. Treat yourself to a copy of the script for only $10, and have it autographed. It will become a treasured memento. I know that mine will.

See what David Suchet thought of this production.

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