Behold! The Monkey Jesus

Joe Wiltshire Smith, co-created by Scott Le Crass and Joe Wiltshire Smith
Organised Fun
The Jack Studio Theatre

Roger Parkins and Mary Tillett Credit: Steve Gregson
Mary Tillett Credit: Steve Gregson
Louise Beresford Credit: Steve Gregson
Roger Parkins Credit: Steve Gregson
Mary Tillett Credit: Steve Gregson
Roger Parkins and Louise Beresford Credit: Steve Gregson
Mary Tillett Credit: Steve Gregson
Behold! The Monkey Jesus Credit: Poster image

At times, it is necessary to admit that there is nothing quite so daft as real life, and the sensation that was Behold! The Monkey Jesus is one such example.

“Ecce homo”, a portrait showing Jesus with a crown of thorns, (literally “Behold! the man”, reportedly said by Pontius Pilate) has been a standard of Christian art for centuries and can be found in galleries and places of worship the world over.

In 2012 Spain, Cecilia Giménez, an enthusiastic amateur artist, or if you are being less generous a person of little discernible artistic talent, took it upon herself to restore the damaged ecce homo in her parish church, a fresco by Spanish painter Elías García Martínez.

Whilst the appreciation of art is subjective, and the image of Christ has always changed with the fashions, her work is at best an unconventional interpretation of His face.

It is not difficult to see why some wag called the painting “Behold! The Monkey Jesus” and the image went viral; Giménez had inadvertently elevated an unremarkable piece of art to international laughing stock and tourist attraction.

The media went mad over the story, as did the Martínez family, though in a different way, and, with any certainty about what truly happened long lost, Joe Wiltshire Smith’s play wisely does not try to say anything too concrete.

Instead, it flits across events from various perspectives, never dragging down the comedy by getting too deep. Indeed, he even exaggerates the preposterousness of it all with the painting speaking to Giménez in puerile double entendres, and there’s a comic debunking of the pretension that so often accompanies discussions of art with a capital A.

For all the many laugh-out-loud moments, the play could have lost ten minutes of length without detriment, a few of them coming from the scene changes. This comedy’s merits lie in its lightness and froth and the pace shouldn't allow the bubbles to deflate.

The non-spuming parts tip towards poignancy when it looks at the vilification and mockery that Giménez was subjected to, and hiding in plain sight is a warning light about how protagonists lose control of their own narrative once they enter the public sphere.

And of course, where there is fame there is merchandise and money, leading to more questions still about ownership and entitlement.

Beyond the laughs, there is an awful lot you could think about, but in the blissfully air conditioned Jack Studio Theatre, it is just fun to watch Wiltshire Smith throw all these balls into the air and leave catching them until later.

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti

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