Theatre: Thou shalt lie with mankind in Bedlam

Corpus Christi Bedlam, Edinburgh On the Whole It's Been Jolly Good Pleasance, Edinburgh Happy Birthday, Mister Deka D Traverse, Edinburgh Behind Closed Doors C Venue, Edinburgh Underground Venue 21, Edinburgh

Terrence McNally's gay Christ play Corpus Christi opened to a storm of protest in New York last year. When Stephen Henry, director of Theatre 28, was asked about this, and the rumbling discontent prior to his own production, he said, "Americans wave placards. The British write letters." But some things aren't written in stone. On Monday, the pavement was lined with Baptists holding placards and thrusting leaflets. Edinburgh's Bedlam Theatre probably has never been so appropriate a venue.

The severity outside was little preparation for the camp-foolery of McNally's prologue. Thirteen good-looking, 20th-century boys are baptised into their stage-roles as disciples. They offer the audience flippant resumes of their past lives as architect or lawyer, masseuse or hustler. They draw lots for bit-parts ("Lazarus - at last!") and draw props from baskets: two fishes; 30 pieces of silver; three nails. Believe it or not, such symbols resonate; McNally's sprightly approach to the "old and familiar" story seems to promise much.

That such a promise wasn't betrayed is largely due to Henry's direction. Joshua/ Jesus grows up in 1950s Texas. He's picked on by jocks, picked up by Judas and tempted by James Dean in the desert. When he embraces his appointed role - and lots of men - he's crucified as "King of the Queers".

Henry manoeuvres the versatile cast with skill, and his thoughtful vision illuminates the biblical sections. All Joshua (Mel Raido) has to do amid the mania - whether comic or homophobic - is look downcast.

The message of love and tolerance is New Testament through and through. But the violence inflicted on outsiders in the name of archaic attitudes is a timeless damnation. McNally's incessant look-at-me irreverence means that Corpus Christi - as theatre, theology or treatise - has many shortcomings. But the protesters outside fully justified his motives.

What happens when, after 60 years' service, the country decides it no longer wants you or your message? In Peter Tinniswood's On the Whole It's Been Jolly Good, Leslie Phillips spends an hour in character as deposed Tory MP Sir Plympton Makepeace, recalling his inconsequential Commons career.

Or rather, Leslie Phillips spends an hour in character as himself: lovable rogue, irresistible smoothie, gentlemanly cad. Tinniswood composes his nostalgia from silver daggers and sweet-scented tributes, and though the script - and Phillips - flag towards the end, it's an hour well spent. Not least because you get to hear that inimitable fruity chortle.

In Biyi Bandele's Happy Birthday, Mister Deka D, an elderly man wearing a party hat sits motionless next to a table on which sits a birthday cake. A woman reads a paper lying on a pub bar. The doorbell rings. A man enters through a hatch in the floor, and a drill drowns out his words. Welcome to Told by an Idiot's world.

The 45-minute piece is intriguing, not least because a commissioned script is a departure for the company. Lika (Hayley Carmichael) and Trisk (Paul Hunter) start and finish each other's queries, pre-empt and conclude each other's thoughts and throw a series of perceptive and painful non-sequiturs at each other. They were once lovers. They know each other well. The rules of logic - natural and narrative - are short-circuited, and lesser talents would ruin its rhythm entirely. Meanwhile, Mister Deka D sits and waits for his cake. It's his birthday every day. I wish him well.

Equally well-crafted is Terry Hughes's Behind Closed Doors. Two partnerships, divided by social class but linked by internal power struggles, are played out in a non-linear sequence. The acting is superb, the writing taut, the subject matter harsh and brutal. It makes for a chillingly controlled 90 minutes. Anything more would give the disturbing game away.

Hughes, figuratively speaking, could give Richard Morton Jack and Tobias Beer a good kicking. The latter pair won the 1999 Cameron Mackintosh new writing award for Underground, advertised as "a harrowing hour of relentless, gut-churning grit". Their take on the Krays would benefit from less ill-judged farce and more ill-meaning fear. The young cast were always on to a loser in the menacing stakes; with one of Ronnie and Reggie's henchmen played by a fresh-faced chap called Crispin Chatterton, suspending disbelief was never an option.

`Corpus Christi', to 28 Aug; `Jolly Good', to 30 Aug; `Deka D', to 4 Sept; `Behind Closed Doors', to 30 Aug; `Underground', to 29 Aug. Fringe Box Office: 0131 226 5138

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention