By Henry Austin

6th September, Marlborough Pub & Theatre 4 Princes Street, Brighton, East Sussex, BN2 1RD

Strapped with a suicide vest, Jesus Christ’s method of martyrdom in the challenging production ‘I Am Mark’ is right up to date with those currently employed by religious extremists in parts the Middle East.

The flat screen TV’s interspersed across the stage show intermittent messages delivered across them from the wild-eyed, increasingly frustrated, figure also echo the YouTube posts by Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria. When he is not there, the explosive device sits menacingly on a chair.

This forms part of a modern take on Mark’s Gospel, the earliest of the four gospels included in the Bible, which nonetheless sticks closely to the original story.

This is not a “Christian” production however, not some church group spreading the good word. This is a compelling production performed by four strong actors, who take on a variety of roles throughout the show.

Clad in combat gear, they enter a stage that is covered in camouflage and army netting and they proceed to tell the story of a figure they refer to as “the crowd gatherer.”

Senior cast member and production devisor, Phil Summers, as “Mark” tells the bulk of this story, ably capturing the essence of a simple man, who became a follower.

The language is plain speaking, swearing included, making it easily accessible for those unfamiliar with the biblical tales and familiar for those who do, despite the odd comedic twist – loaves and fishes become tuna sandwiches.

But this production is much more than a bible story. Interspersed with the telling of the gospel is a range of characters from Abigail Parmenter and Timothy Bond’s hilarious Pete and Dud style demons, to Annabel Annan-Jonathan’s moving African Aids victim.

Tiananmen Square and the current crisis in northern Iraq are all referenced. Parmenter’s royal wedding involving Cheryl Cole is also satire at it’s finest.

Referencing these events against the political corruption and Roman oppression in biblical times allows for interesting parallels to be drawn with the modern World, particularly given where the action takes place.

The eerie figure played by the show’s director Peter Moreton, apparently Jesus although his name is never mentioned, appears on the screen at regular points. Change the religion and he could easily be on the News at Ten.

While spoken highly of by “Mark,” this is not a kindly figure. This is the slightly unhinged leader of a people’s movement and like the gospel itself, someone who’s fate is inevitable. The excellent use of multimedia to convey this message merely adds to the tension.

Much of this storytelling is either backed or moved forward by the use of original music by the show’s director, Peter Moreton.

Hidden behind the camouflage netting is piano, ably played by Timothy Bond and often supported by guitars and a simple drum beat. The harmonies produced by the cast are also excellent.

While it’s safe to say I can’t really give away the ending, the pace of this production is unrelenting. Two-and-a-half hours fly by, leaving you both challenged and entertained at the finale – something that is not easily achieved.

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