Jesus, My Boy
Written by John Dowie
Pleasance Theatre Islington
It's hard to overvalue the pleasure of gentle humour being warmly delivered on a chilly November evening after a taxing day. Jesus, My Boy was like slipping into a warm bath with a glass of red wine.
As you might expect from a piece written by a comedian-turned-playwright, the script is thick with laughs but there are also moments of genuine poignancy, and in Tom Conti's skilful interpretation this play becomes more than just a vehicle for delivering jokes.
This one man show tells an edited story of Jesus from the point of view of his earthly father which not only means that well-known episodes from the Bible can be viewed from a new angle but also common preconceptions can be debunked, though "We were hoping for a little girl" can safely be taken with a pinch of salt.
John Dowie has Joseph as an inept carpenter who meets the love of his life, the feisty and practical Mary, when she comes to his shop to complain that the table he made wobbles. By making Joseph an ordinary simple guy Dowie keeps things pretty intimate, escaping the need for any intellectualising and the critical commentary he does include is generally witty and directed at the Pharisees, ancient Romans and other parties that won't take offence and sue.
Jesus, My Boy was produced in London some ten years ago and Conti is clearly very comfortable in this revival. He slips between the characters with ease: Joseph is thickly accented like the eponymous Fiddler, all shrugs and mannerisms, whilst Mary has a spirited Miss Piggy voice and the dim Wise Men - "Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. What? You couldn't find a rattle?" - are given American accents.
A shift from the string of one-liners is provided just in time by the story of losing 12 year old Jesus and a heart-rending description of crucifixion though the latter is accompanied by an inelegant lighting change that should get someone's wrist slapped. With such honed comic timing on stage it is an affront to blast at it with an explosion of primary colour.
Conti seems unaffectedly buoyant and an innate charm seems to glow from him. Just how natural that charm is becomes apparent in the post-show 'chat'. A born raconteur his anecdotes are like a second glass of wine.
"Jesus, My Boy" has a week-long run closing on Sunday 29 November
Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti