100 stories in one

Mistero Buffo (Rhum and Clay)

Metro Arts, New Benner Theatre

September 14 – 17

Award-winning UK theatre company, Rhum and Clay’s “Mistero Buffo” is very much a festival type of show, though perhaps Edinburgh more than Brisbane. The one-man romp is a lot, and a lot of it unexpected, even for those who familiar with its descriptor blurb of “an extraordinary, virtuosic romp through a hundred characters and locations by one incredible performer”. For what our 21st century travelling storyteller, a Deliveroo driver at the centre of the gig economy delivers is a subversive, rallying cry for the disillusioned and disenfranchised.

Julian Spooner starts things off by rushing onto Metro Arts’ New Benner Theatre scruffily breathless, with a Deliveroo pack on his back, direct from his last job of the day. What follows soon thereafter, however, is nothing to do with reflection of his Covid gig, but consideration of the hypocrisy of powerful institutions from a much larger narrative perspective in what is essentially a one-man political play about the life of Jesus Christ as a celebrity cult leader more than heaven-sent Son of God, through its retelling of a selection of New Testament tales focussed on Jesus’ miracles.

Nobel Prize-winning playwright Dario Fo’s 1969 play, it turns out, comes with a long history and many previous incantations. What sets this one apart is the incredible physicality at the core of its realisation as Spooner realises all of the 100 characters that make appearance in its stories, whether in monologue, conversation or crowd scenes alike. His incredible talent and versatility are showcased in the skill he shows to not only make each character distinct, but slip in and out of inhabit of them so swiftly and chameleon-like, without the aid of props, but rather just the smallest nuances of gesture, stance or facial expression and changed accent or vocal cadence. There is an exactness, also, to his timing along with sound and lighting, although these elements are limited, allowing focus to rightly be on the precision of his performance. And in terms of this, it is easy to appreciate the award winning show’s rave UK reviews.

As a manifesto and a reclamation of the true intent of bible stories for those they should serve, the show’s content is dense… almost unrelentingly so. Reprieve comes, however, in the biblical story of the Resurrection of Lazarus, which provides abundant humour as the Jongleur charges entrance fees to the event and attempts to sell chairs to the gathering crowd of voyeurs negotiating entrance fees in eager determination to be in the front row for the action of the big name appearance.

The slick energy that Spooner maintains for the 90-minute duration of “Mistero Buffo” is impressive. This means, however, that while the work brings with it some messaging around religious rule and championing the oppressed, it’s a theme that is sometimes drowned in the detail of its mile-a-minute narrative retelling. It’s also quite blasphemous, particularly in its portrayal of Jesus being nailed to the cross while guards gable for his possessions, meaning that while the Monty Python silliness of its exaggeration is often very funny, it’s unlikely to be to everyone’s tastes.