Judas – Viking Theatre – Review by David Minogue
Until Nov 25th
The Viking Theatre @ The Sheds in Clontarf recently celebrated six years since it was founded. In that time it has featured a wide variety of plays and shows by Irish and international creative talents. The theatre’s latest production is Judas which is written by the acclaimed Dutch playwright Lot Vekemans and following various performances throughout Europe, this is a new translation that is presented for the first time in English. It features The Viking Theatre’s co-founder Andrew Murray in the role of Judas, the most infamous of all of the disciples. It is performed as a monologue that includes occasional interactions with the audience.
The set features a table which is symbolic of the one we recognise as once used in the imagery of the Last Supper. It is bare except for three white table cloths. It is placed centre stage against a painted black background on which several white cotton cords are nailed to form a ‘rays of light’ pattern. During the play Judas stands against, walks around or sits on the table and most symbolically stands behind it in the place where Jesus once sat. It is now an empty space for Judas to tell his own life story and specifically the time that he spent with Jesus. During the performance he refers to Jesus as either Him or Master. The performance initially starts and stops and at first seems very disjointed. A crude joke is told and there are at least two incidents that feel disconcerting. It is unclear whether this is all done on purpose within the context of the play which adds a surreal kind of intrigue to the production. The play is set more than two thousand years after the death of Judas. Judas is someone who is aware of what the audience knows of him already. The narrative is not linear and it cuts back and forth so the telling of the story is fragmentary. Everything the average person knows of Judas is recounted such as that he was one of the twelve disciples and how he came to betray Jesus with a kiss in the garden of Gethsemane for thirty pieces of silver. Judas presents his own story and asks us to ‘imagine what it was like to be there’ and then make our own judgements.
Judas tells us that his name was passed on through the generations to each of the first born sons by his family. It is now synonymous with the word betrayal. Judas left his family to become one of the followers of Jesus but initially he was only ‘one of the hundreds’. In time he gradually became closer to Jesus and it is the recounting of specific moments in their friendship and closeness that the play is at its strongest. Andrew Murray has very good stage presence and these moments are the most evocative. Statements in the narrative such as Jesus confiding that ‘one step closer to Jerusalem is one step closer to death’ are powerful. As are when Judas says “I’ve made a mistake!” after he identifies Jesus to his persecutors with a kiss. Judas hangs himself because ‘no one else would do it for him’. While the play is derived from one of the Bible’s most famous passages it never feels religious in a preachy way. It is also equally not disrespectful. By placing the character dressed in today’s clothes it also humanizes him and makes him real. In never completely answering questions it still leaves interpretation of his story open. Remorse, guilt and truth all simmer underneath but don’t dominate.
The story of Judas has been much referred to in art, film, literature and theatre and this performance is another interesting representation of him. Leonardo Da Vinci made all of the disciples better known because of his Last Supper painting. One aspect that is interesting about that painting is that each of the twelve disciples was depicted to display a reaction when Jesus says that one person present at the table will betray him. In this play Judas is the only one left. It is the play’s defining image. It is something that is equally intriguing and unnerving.
Written by Lot Vekemans
Directed by Elyn Friedrichs
Performed by Andrew Murray
Designed by Liam O’Neill