On 19th September 2020, I was lucky enough to experience live theatre for the first time since January. A concert staging version of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar was being shown for a six week run at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.
The ticket booking process was quick and simple. All of the seats had already been sorted into bubbles of between 1 and 4 people. This made it easy to select a bubble matching the number of people you intended to view the show with. There was also the opportunity when booking tickets to pre-order drinks from the bar, which could be collected on arrival at the theatre.
The grounds opened an hour before the start time of the show. This allowed extra time for the new safety measures the theatre had put in place for the performance. Temperatures were checked on arrival, with numerous hand sanitising stations clearly labelled around the theatre, and guests encouraged to sanitise hands upon entry. Masks were compulsory in both the grounds and the auditorium.
The bar had a collection area for pre-orders, as well as an area for purchasing items on the day. Both of these were behind Perspex screens. Social distancing measures were very cleverly used within the theatre. Every bubble had two seats free on either side of them and every other row was left empty.
The capacity of the theatre was also reduced from 1200 people down to 390. However, there was also a live screening of the performance, so that people would be able to view it from the grass verge in the grounds.
Now onto the performance. It was a 90-minute performance with no interval to reduce the amount of interaction. This particular version of Jesus Christ Superstar, directed by Timothy Sheader, Kate Waters and Denzel Westley-Sanderson, had concert staging to allow for social distancing.
The show had a creative team made up of nine members, a band made up of eleven members, six of which were visible on stage, and a cast of 22 members.
The role of Judas was played by Ricardo Afonso, with Pepe Nufrio in the role of Jesus. The creative team were inventive when choosing a cast for this particular version. The actors they chose had all performed this show before. This minimised the need for a long rehearsal period, therefore reducing the production cost.
Production costs were also reduced by using modern outfits, and not involving many props in the show. Thus allowing the spending to be minimal during the preparation period.
The use of props throughout the performance was done with precision. Each cast member had their own microphone stand, to avoid cross-contamination.
During the crucifixion, the use of perspective as well as a microphone lead was extremely inventive. The character of Pontius Pilate, located at the top of the stage, held both sides of the lead with Jesus at the bottom of the stage, being twisted and turned from Pilate’s movements. This helped to portray the ferocity and pain of the crucifixion without the actors becoming too close on stage.
There was one part where the social distancing measures became apparent. This was when Jesus placed the crown of thorns upon his own head. This was easy to overlook as an audience member, however.
Although the actors were socially distanced throughout the entirety of the performance, from an audience perspective, it was barely noticeable. This may have been due to the sheer thrill of being able to see live theatre again, or the incredible directing and use of the space they had on stage.
Having seen Evita at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre the year before, I did not notice a difference between the way the ensemble for that and Jesus Christ Superstar were staged, proving that this was a pure masterpiece.
The start of the show was very symbolic, as the ensemble appeared on stage with masks, leading to a group unmasking, which of course was met by a huge applause. This symbolised the unmasking of theatre in an attempt to give it a voice again.
After months of uncertainty, there is finally a glimmer of hope that theatre will work with safety measures in place.
Overall, the show thoroughly deserved the standing ovation, due to the sheer determination of the cast and creative team to get theatres back open, bringing happiness to so many lives. They really did prove that, in time, the show will go on!