Almeida Theatre, London N1
Stephen Adly Guirgis is a New York writer whose track record is more Hell’s Kitchen than hell.
No surprise, then, that although his trial play, which tests the guilt of Judas Iscariot, takes place in downtown Purgatory, in Rupert Goold’s exhilarating Headlong production, the place looks a lot like seedy, modern-day New York.
Corey Johnson’s underworld-weary Judge Littlefield rules over the proceedings contested by the kind of advocates hired from a low-rent Bronx law outfit.
Arguing for Iscariot, played powerfully by Joseph Mawle with fevered self-destructiveness, is Susan Lynch’s ballsy broad Fabiana.
She is up against God’s representative — Mark Lockyer’s hilariously word-spitting, Arab émigré Yusef El-Fayoumy (currently residing in hell due to a paperwork mix-up and the Americanisation of the afterlife).
The play’s funny joke is that biblical witnesses are reincarnated as foul-mouthed streetwise hustlers. Its serious theme is the fallibility of judgement — not just God’s but everyone’s.
So when the Jewish witness Caiaphas is made to account for betraying Jesus, he counters that it is not he who needs forgiving but the New Testament scribes whose “lies and exaggerations” led to 2,000 years of persecution.
The great and the good of biblical and modern history are taken down a notch or 10.
Yusef challenges Freud’s (Josh Cohen) testimony because the father of modern psychology is an unreliable coke-head. Fabiana gives Mother Theresa (Dona Croll) a going-over for opposing Vatican reforms condemning antisemitism.
Satan (a chilling Douglas Henshall) and Pontius Pilate (Ron Cephas Jones) also have their say. But what makes this play fly is Adly Guirgis’s hard-ass dialogue that respects its subject but leaves nothing sacred.
Tel: 020 7359 4404