It is very difficult to sum up Sandy Nelson’s The Gospel Inquiry adequately, beyond stating that it is something exceptional.
Taking a “Leveson” approach to the Gospels, the four scribes are each invited to give their testimony, and defend the verses they wrote, discrepancies and all. Kosher Matthew, flamboyant Mark, cynical Luke, and class warrior John are rotated among the cast members Jimmy Chisholm, Tom Freeman, and Nelson.
What follows just bursts at the seams with wit, inventiveness, intelligence, and an incredible, rich stream of allusion to other sources. The references come so thick and fast that it’s hard to keep up. In places it brings to mind the superlative inquiry episode of The Thick of It, and the structure of unreliable narration of the film Rashomon.
The play examines the uncomfortable symbiotic nature of the press and celebrity, and one can’t help but think of the media furore following the deaths of Princess Diana, David Kelly, and more recently, press complicity in the decline and demise of Amy Winehouse.
The three actors switch roles effortlessly and establish the characters’ own subtle motives for various elaborations and ‘sexing-up’ of their versions of events. The one thing that even comes close to a false note is the overly-effete portrayal of Mark, which comes perilously close to offensive caricature. However, this in no way derails an otherwise impeccable production.
The joy is not just in the little glow of recognition at yet another cultural reference, fun though that is, but that the cleverness of the ideas is never at the expense of clarity. It is thematically dense, and maybe a little knowledge of the Biblical text is advisable, but it is nevertheless always accessible. Great Magic Roundabout gag too.