The New Testament has already had the Steven Berkoff treatment. In Messiah – Scenes from a Crucifixion, he presented Christ as a kind of cross between Che Guevara and David Blaine – a radical who, knowing that a real messiah was never going to come, tried to pull off the stunt of faking his own death and resurrection in fulfilment of prophecy.
There's nothing, alas, equivalently piquant or provocative about Biblical Tales, an evening of four one-act plays inspired by Old Testament stories that are unveiled now in the author's powerfully performed production at the New End. They have been touted as offering controversial 21st-century twists on mythic material. But, by and large, they merely deploy familiar Berkovian techniques (a script in which the sub-poetic collides with East End demotic to sometimes unintentionally comic effect; heavily stylised gesture etc) to recycle ancient stereotypes in modern mufti.
Sporting a body suit with outsize joke genitalia, Mark Frost's cockney geezer of an Adam wastes no time in complaining that Sarah Chamberlain's newly arrived Eve is "a typical woman". Since, as she points out, there are too few of her for generalisation, this would be a good gag, if it weren't for the fact that the play itself goes on to patronise her in like manner. She's seen as a consumerist female airhead who eats the apple out of boredom at the lack of nightlife in Eden and, by so doing, exiles the couple to her real idea of paradise: a shopping mall. A similarly unreconstructed view of dastardly feminine wiles is paraded during the languorous ballet of "Samson's Hair" in which Delilah (Ms Chamberlain) adds outrageous hypocrisy to treachery as she hypnotises Matthew Clancy's strapping Samson into revealing his secret.
Insecurities about sexuality are given an amusing, if predictable, spin when Saul, portrayed as a East End villain by Alex Giannini, tricks David into fighting with Goliath by questioning the nature of the little guy's close friendship with Jonathan. The last piece, "Pharaoh and Moses", is the most sobering, even if all the grotesquely magnified mime of fighting off locusts, frogs, and tides of blood leaves you feeling that, for this style of theatre, the plagues of Egypt drop indulgently, like manna from heaven.
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