There can be little doubt that the crucifixion of Christ has been the most frequently dramatised event of all time: hence it is a challenge for any director to find a new way of presenting and interpreting the well-known story. Robbie Parkin has done well in this version, using the grounds of the Baptist Church’s Gateway Centre to great effect as a backdrop to the narrative.
This is a mobile piece of theatre, with the audience being led up hill and down dale to view various tableaux in the life of Jesus. Enactment of the story at night among the gum trees with torches lighting the way gives a special atmosphere to the drama. In underlining the humanity of Jesus, the Christ-child is born on hay bales to his mother’s birthing cries and dies groaning on a tree. He preaches the beatitudes as lepers emerge from the crowd to touch his garment’s hem. Zacchaeus appears above us in a eucaplypt. Most vividly, disciples in a boat in the middle of a dam cringe and cry out at the drum-provided thunder, Jesus quells the storm as he walks across the water towards them, and Peter succeeds, and then fails, in emulating his Master’s miracle, emerging dripping from the lake.
Confrontations with soldiers, religious officials and temple shopkeepers are handled well, and there are frequent injections of humour to break the tension. Through conversations between Jesus and a chess-playing adversary, questions are raised about the nature of Jesus’ mission and the limits of forgiveness. Nathan Kotzur is perhaps too stereotypal a Jesus in appearance, but captures well the complexities of a man with more questions than answers, flattered by the mob’s attentions but uncertain about his role, and finally demonstrating hidden reservoirs of strength in defeating his diabolical enemy. Simon Radcliffe as his adversary effectively sows seeds of doubt and relentlessly asks all the difficult questions with cool logic. Other members of the cast as the disciples and opponents of Jesus double as flashlight wielders and marshalls, doing well in their multitudinous roles.
Liar, Madman, God is the centrepiece of the Brisbane Easter Arts Festival, which also includes talks, film showings and an art exhibition. It is played as straight drama rather than as a devotional exercise, although given that the festival’s audiences are almost exclusively from church congregations, some audience participation would not have been unwelcome.