Paul, NT Cottesloe, London

Click to follow

In Brenton's version of events, Paul firstly appears to be a hallucinating epileptic. Roving around a rubble-strewn, Roman-occupied Judaea, Adam Godley's Paul starts out as a militant Pharisee, dressed like gaunt guerrilla leader in a leather jacket and combat gear. In a drive to purify and unify the Jews, he has been exterminating members of the new sect who say Jesus rose from the dead. Then Godley smells flowers, falls down in a fit, and sees Pearce Quigley's pallid Christ, surrounded by a backlit aura, speaking about Paul's guilty riven feelings, telling him to stop resisting and become a believer with an almighty mission. When Paul turns up in Jerusalem to see the apostles, Paul Higgins' James - here Jesus' sorely-tried sibling - fights to maintain centralised control, exasperated by the burgeoning resurrection myth he originally condoned. By the end, Paul is imprisoned in Rome with Lloyd Owen's gruff Peter, facing imminent torture and execution. Though Peter has previously been won over by the Paul's impassioned preaching, he is now a doubting Thomas. Finally, he shatteringly tells Paul that, as an eye-witness, he knows Jesus survived the cross. He was smuggled out of Jerusalem, hidden in caves and insisted on "appearing" to Paul on the road, to deflect him from his campaign of persecution.

This piece has some dud patches. Quigley's Christ is drearily wan, incredibly uninspiring. The occasional spate of devout chanting and Paul's most preachy moments also made me switch off, perhaps because it had the whiff of school assemblies and Bible class about it. However, more often, the play is theologically informative and historically intriguing in its alternative readings, sometimes humorously leaving question marks hanging over its own accuracy. Davies' actors, are, mostly, energetically driven and Godley is - if not a absolute godsend - doing a splendid job as a febrile, dogged Paul, saving the day after Paul Rhys pulled out of the title role. Finally, good news for Brenton fans. Sheffield's Crucible Theatre is planning to breathe new life into his famous 1980 shocker, The Romans In Britain, in February.

k.bassett@independent.co.uk

To 4 February, 020 7452 3000

Comments