George Dillon has been performing his one man show The Gospel of Matthew for a number of years now. He has made this form of theatre his own, and it is easy to see why as it suits his style. He is a powerful performer, mesmerising to watch, who is technically very skilled, in complete vocal and physical control of his performance and brim full of conviction, a theatrical pile driver who can also be gentle and subtle when he needs to be.
The Gospel of Matthew also suits him perfectly. This is a Jesus who has a passion for social justice and a fierce intelligence, a Jesus with no fear of authority. There is nothing meek and mild here. It is the Jesus of the gospels, not that of flower arranging and cups of tea with the vicar, and it is strong meat. This man was dangerous to the authorities of the time and he was prepared to take them on on his own terms. It was only going to end one way. Whether you believe that he was the son of God or not is irrelevant, this is a compelling story which drives forward with great force. Hearing the whole gospel from beginning to end told by a master storyteller gives you the whole man and you are able to watch the complete arc of the story play out inevitably in front of you.
It is a very simple piece of storytelling, a single figure lit by candlelight on an empty stage, but we are not simply given a recitation. As the story unfolds we see not only Jesus, but a proud centurion, devious pharisees, befuddled disciples, a haughty Pontius Pilate who is full of distaste for what is being done and many more. These characters are conjured up swiftly and accurately, sometimes we are shown what they are thinking by a single pause or gesture. It is all done with breathtaking speed and precision. This is grand acting kept in check by perfect physical and vocal control, there to serve the story and calculated to make specific points. It is George Dillon’s own translation of the gospel but it stays close to the original, there is no clever modern reworking, just quite subtle touches which clarify and underline the meaning for a modern audience.
It is a very upfront and uncompromising piece of theatre. There is nowhere for the audience to hide as George Dillon insists on your attention, making eye contact and forcing you to listen. I was on the front row and when he pointed straight at me, glaring, and declared that I was the salt of the world there was no doubt that this was a direct challenge, not a compliment. The smart older lady who I shared the lift with after the performance was still bemused. She shook her head at me and admitted, “I’m not sure what to think after that powerful performance”. She was alone and I’m guessing that she was a local churchgoer who had fancied a nice Easter treat by candlelight. It hadn’t been the Jesus she was expecting but maybe not being sure what to think was exactly the result that the show deserved. Too many people, whether they are militant atheists or bible bashing Christians, think that they know the truth. It’s a lot stranger and more real than most people allow themselves to think. Through this show you can examine yourself and your own attitudes in the company of a great actor telling a great story. That’s enough to be going on with.