Spotlight on topless nun as chapel hosts musical: David Lister on a mixed response to an irreverent production

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The Independent Online
THEATRE producers are studying the success of an irreverent rock musical that opened in a large London church this week to avoid the costs and ticket prices of a West End production.

Bad Boy Johnnie and the Prophets of Doom received a boisterous reception from a 1,200-strong young audience when it opened on Thursday night at the Union Chapel in Islington.

The Rev Janet Wootton, minister at the Pentecostalist church, allowed the show to go ahead for a six-week run after reading the script and being advised it was a morality play. Not all the congregation will agree after watching the fantasy musical, which included a carnal Pope, sexy schoolgirls, scantily clad Sisters of Mercy and a topless nun seducing the Pope on the altar. All to a background of strobes, TV monitors and rock music.

Yesterday a Catholic priest called the show blasphemous. 'It should be consigned to the dustbin where it belongs,' Fr Kit Cunningham, priest at St Etheldreda's in Holborn, said. 'It's insulting to Catholics. It hits at people's church beliefs.'

The producers, however, insisted that the tale of venality and corruption at the Vatican was a humorous one. Certainly its tuneful score and strong performances from Craig Ferguson, the alternative comedian, and Mark Shaw, the singer with the band Then Jericho, could make it a cult youth musical.

The production team led by Claudia Rosencrantz, who produced the Dame Edna shows in the West End, and writer Daniel Abineri who starred in The Rocky Horror Show, say that the costs of putting on a musical in the West End have spiralled too far and they were determined to find an English equivalent of Off Broadway.

With electric fires under the stained-glass windows and beer allowed in the pews, the atmosphere at the church appeals to a young audience. It also appeals to the producers who can put on the show for a quarter of the pounds 500,000 it would cost in the West End.

In the show, the hard- drinking Fr Maclean, played by Ferguson, kills a prostitute he has impregnated to gain control of her son, the altar boy Johnnie, played by Mark Shaw. Maclean disguises Johnnie's girlfriend, Desire, as a nun, and gets her into the Vatican where she seduces Pope Liberty III. He suffers a seizure, dies and leaves the papacy vacant for Johnnie.

The theatre publicist Mark Borkowski, who is advising the producers, said: 'Having all this happen in an actual church has certainly given it an extra edge and the younger elements of the audience seem to love it . . . We can offer a top price here of pounds 14.50 going down to pounds 6, which you just can't do at a West End musical.'