We enter a smoky room, fittingly located in the Pleasance Above, to be greeted by a long-haired bearded man on a cross. “Come in, my children, take a seat anywhere you like,” says the apparent saviour (otherwise known as Australian Josh Ladgrove). A choir of angelic voices fill the air.
As concepts go, this is right up there. Everything you need to know is spelled out in the title. Imagine you’ve travelled back in time 2000 years; you’re on the hill at Calvary, amongst the gathering crowds, to jeer the proclaimed “King of the Jews”.
Due to its improvised nature, you don’t know what show you’re going to get on any given night. This experience is particularly audience-dependent, which in fairness to Ladgrove, was probably the cause of some early unimpressed reviews. Once everyone is settled in, Jesus simply says: “You may heckle me.”
Inevitably it’s a slow start. The first heckle is more of a polite question: “Ideal dinner party guests?” Fortunately comic Jess Thom, otherwise known as “Tourettes hero”, is in the crowd. The Messiah/Ladgrove explains to the uninitiated that Thom is a bit of a regular, and indeed she is on top form – stealing the show to the extent that at one stage Jesus comes down from the cross to give her the microphone.
Soon the heckles are flying in from all angles. Some question the “missing years” and what happened during the 3 days in the tomb (he mainly played Goldeneye on the Nintendo 64). Others take more theological approaches, and bring up interesting points about biblical inaccuracies and Christ’s stance on women’s rights. One man tests the extent of Ladgrove’s background research by probing him about a song Jesus allegedly sings to some possessed sheep. Ladgrove happily – and, it has to be said, surprisingly – obliges.
As with much improvised theatre, there are lulls where people struggle to think of something worth saying. Jesus soaks up the atmosphere, insisting he’s happy to see out the hour in perfect silence. But the show properly kicks off when one heckler comes up to eat from the body of Christ, following which there is an actual communion involving the audience passing round a bottle of wine.
Ladgrove/Jesus tells us about a previous night, when he had an encounter with some fundamentalists who didn’t take kindly to his portrayal. And of course, the mere presence of a religious icon will inevitably cause some people offence. So why did Ladgrove decide to do this? Because he grew his hair and looked in a mirror? There may be more to it; but it’s possible that literally is it.
Which may explain why, enjoyable as some parts are, we don’t really get to grips with the man on the cross. It’s funny when Jesus goes off on a tangent to answer questions about his favourite multiplayer levels on Goldeneye, but it feels like so much more could be done with this. I’m sure that on some nights more poignant thoughts arise – so my suggestion would be to go armed with a list of heckles, ready to fill any awkward gaps of silence.