The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is a play by American Stephen Adly Guirgis, receiving its UK premiere here at the Almeida in a co-production with Headlong, who are run by Rupert Goold who is the director. The play centres on a trial testing the guilt of Judas, ostensibly set in Purgatory which looks and sounds a lot like a downtown seedy part of New York today. An array of witnesses from all points in history and the Bible are summoned to argue the toss, but as they’ve all been reincarnated as foul-mouthed typical New Yorkers, they are stripped of the protective aura that history and reputation has accorded them and we see everything from a whole new perspective.
It is certainly a different way of looking at things but it has been so well written and I feel the key to its success is in its no-holds-barred approach to telling it like it is whilst maintaining a sense of decorum. Adly Guirgis is often irreverent but also respectful with it, making it all the funnier when Mother Teresa is hauled all over the coals for opposing Vatican reforms that condemned anti-Semitism and Sigmund Freud’s testimony is discredited due to his raging cocaine addiction.
The trial format allows for an array of bright cameo spots and the cast seem to love the opportunities afforded them here: I particularly enjoyed Poppy Miller’s Mary Magdelene, Dona Croll’s Mother Teresa, but it is Douglas Henshall as Satan who is predictably most fun. Susan Lynch’s passionate and slightly crazy defence lawyer is a delight and if Mark Lockyer’s prosecutor owes a little (or a lot) to Sacha Baron Cohen, then it is all to the good as he is just hilarious. And at the centre of it all, Joseph Mawle’s Judas is excellent.
So whilst a bit long and unwieldy, it is so imaginatively staged here, witty throughout with some extremely incisive dialogue and a genuinely thought-provoking central premise, about how fallible we all are when it comes to making judgments, that this play really does work and emerges as a thrilling, unique night at the theatre.