entertainment

'Jesus Christ Superstar' at the Barbican, London review: 'Dark, disturbing, and sensational'

Matt Cardle and Robert Tripolino star as the definitive production returns for a limited season.

2019-07-10

Words: Simon Button

The summer of Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals starts now, with Jesus Christ Superstar at the Barbican, Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat opening at the London Palladium this week and Evita making her open-air debut at Regent’s Park next month.

Strictly speaking, this Superstar is a revival of a revival - a carbon copy of the production which played, also in Regent’s Park, in 2016 and 2017.

The casting is different, though, and that gives the show a new spin. Robert Tripolino’s Jesus is less haunted than Declan Bennett’s and more like a pissed-off boyband member.

Ricardo Afonso and Robert Tripolino as Judas and Jesus (Photo: Johan Persson)

And Ricardo Afonso’s Judas is older and more cynical than Tyrone Huntley’s so that the story - fashioned by Lloyd Webber and Rice in the early '70s as a rock opera about Christ’s last days as seen through his eventual betrayer’s sceptical eyes - is more about a long-standing follower’s frustrations instead of a youngster’s disillusionment about an idol letting him down.

Matt Cardle makes for a powerful Pilate, realising in the devastating trial scene that he’s just a pawn in a much bigger picture. And Samuel Buttery’s outré Herod, done up in gold lame like a drag queen with a huge costume budget, is more menacing than comical.

‘Herod’s Song’ is usually done for laughs but here’s it’s dark and disturbing, with Herod’s aides dressed as heads on plates with blood dripping down their shirts. But then this Superstar is much darker than previous productions and considerably more so in the Barbican where there’s no shift from daylight to night.

Ricardo Afonso as Judas (Photo: Johan Persson)

It’s stunningly done. Lee Curran’s stadium rock lighting is the perfect compliment to Tom Scutt’s metal girders and cross-as-a-catwalk set and choreographer Drew McOnie puts the terrific ensemble through their paces in a series of orgiastic frenzies.

The band is a bit too loud in places, drowning out a lot of Rice’s lyrical witticisms, and Tripolino doesn’t have Bennett’s acting chops. But his singing, like Afonso’s, is sensational - as is the show itself, flawed like its hero in places but surely the most vital Superstar there’s ever been.

Rating: 4.5/5

Jesus Christ Superstar is at the Barbican until August 24. For great deals on tickets and shows click here.