I challenge you to find a greater irony than that of watching a biblical show, telling tales of love and repentance, inside of The Lemmy. I must admit straight off that I had my reservations about this musical. I questioned the extent to which I could be immersed into a story that was a) performed in the setting of our student club and b) about Christian parables. And yet, Shotgun’s performance of Godspell achieved the impossible: it not only was an engaging two hours of theatre, but it made me forget I was inside of The Lemmy.
Our mighty student club looked somewhat different on Tuesday evening when I arrived for the second night of performance, and it gives me great pleasure to confirm that the floor is not always that sticky. The dancefloor had been transformed into a stage space with the audience’s seats organised into theatre in the round, and fairy lights were draped on a wooden panel that made a backdrop to the stage. The ensemble was already in the performance space when the audience arrived, huddled in a group that faced into each other and completely still (mannequin challenge maybe?). What was to follow was not just a story about Christianity, but an ultimately feel-good musical about a community of people coming together, performed to an exceptional standard.
Director and Assistant Director, Joe Miller and Katherine Lea, chose to put gender-blind casting into practice, and it certainly paid off. In their rendition of Stephen Schwartz’s Godspell, Jesus is female, played by Emily Lafoy. Lafoy’s performance was so believable it made you disregard the fact Jesus was ever considered male, and Judas, played by Harry Butterwick, was equally very convincing. With eight members of the ensemble, the whole cast was made up of just ten people, all of whom were on stage for most of the performance. The shifting character focus meant that each counterpart to the ensemble was as important to the plot as Jesus and Judas were, each cast member having a solo at some point during the show.
There was no plot as such, it was more just a series of parables, and I have to admit that the spoken parts about the tales of John and the like did lose me a bit. However, the parables were interspersed with song and dance, set to a very modern musical score. It was in these musical numbers that the show came alive. These songs were catchy and fun, despite the hymn-like lyrics: I can’t deny that later that night I was still tapping my foot and humming the tune to a song about seeing God more clearly. Moreover, the vocals from the cast were remarkable, to a professional standard even: each song brought on that spine-tingling effect that made me feel a bit like my mum getting dramatic over Les Mis. But it truly was very impressive, and the intricate choreography and Brechtian influences made the show all the more powerful.
Somehow, with their performance of Godspell, Shotgun managed to put The Lemon Grove into The Lemmy – transforming it from a questionable venue of sweaty freshers and iridescent VKs, into a legitimate theatre for an uplifting and flawless performance. Pure magic.
You can find Shotgun Theatre’s Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/shotguntheatre/