THEATRE / Ritual abuse: Paul Taylor sees a sin of commission at the Union Chapel
Tuesday 01 February 1994
Seeing Daniel Abineri's piece actually entails going to church, since it takes place all over the sacred bits of the Union Chapel in Islington, London. For some reason, though, that admiral ecclesiastical practice of only requiring the congregation to give what they feel like during a mid-show collection has been abandoned here. If it were resumed, the results would, I think, be most enlightening.
The musical follows the fortunes of a papist preacher who masterminds his bastard son's elevation into the role of first rock Pope. With its saucy, scantily-clad Sisters of Mercy, carnal cardinals and mountainous Mafia-style Pope, who conks out on his throne when given the come-on by a topless beauty, Bad Boy Johnny evidently has designs on the camp cult status enjoyed by the Rocky Horror Show. But the night I saw it, there was next to no infectious exuberance, and the church environment, instead of imparting a frisson of blasphemy, just made you feel vaguely uncomfortable and constrained.
It also creates a horrible acoustic, rendering it hard to distinguish the words in some of the louder numbers of the passable retro-rock score. As the girl-mobbed star, Then Jericho's singer Mark Shaw certainly looks the part and throws himself into the songs with impressive attack, even if only pretending to play the guitar. Both he and the comedian Craig Ferguson, who does his best to be engagingly diabolic as the dastardly Father MacLean, are undermined by material which is neither funny nor coherent enough. It's too perfunctory and badly aimed to work as satire (the modern Catholic Church has worse things to answer for than furtive venality) and it doesn't have the right confident transgressive spirit to work as low-down dirty fun.
I laughed out loud once, when the hero, resurrected from the dead, raises his instrument to break through the bars of his girlfriend's cell and she, concerned, coos, 'Johnny, not your guitar.' Elsewhere, this mixture of birettas and bosoms, choppers and chalices may remind you, both in subject and laughter quotient, of that other great hit, Sex Please, We're Italian.
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