It’s not often that you meet directors with as much faith in their new writing project as Matt Fuller and Adam Lebovits, creators of Messiah Man, showing in 4th week at the Burton Taylor Studio. The story, which follows 19th-century John Murray Spear as he creates his divinely-inspired “God Machine”, is based on truth, and it is clear from talking to Matt and Adam that they have a healthy amount of interest in the story and respect for the real John. They each told me of other chapters in John’s life which they found greatly entertaining but decided to cut from the show as they weren’t in keeping with the narrative-driven plot. Such ruthless decision-taking and faith in the source material can only bode well for the production. The story is, of course, lovingly embellished for the stage, with a strong focus on comedic scenes and characters. This is achieved by a sparse supporting cast, who, in true comedic tradition, each play a number of different roles. Having a cast low on numbers can lead to a loss of energy, but this was certainly not in evidence in the preview I was shown, thanks to the natural vivacity of actors Liv Gillman, Michael Beale, Mary Flanigan, and Jack Morgan. The show relies on their enthusiasm and, in the preview, they didn’t disappoint. These actors play off a constant central figure; John, played by Ben Cohen. As the other characters switch roles and improvise around him, he remains unmoved; offering the play’s stable centre, and later its emotion and pathos. Ben’s role may not seem difficult, but it is a vastly underrated talent to act like a normal man in an abnormal world, and Ben pulls it off with ease. The energy was maintained too by the inclusion of audience interaction. Viewers are referenced and pointed out and, in one scene, actors stand amongst the audience members. At no point does this seem foisted upon the audience, however; there is a sense of the actors having an awareness of the audience rather than relying on their goodwill. The directors have backgrounds in stand-up, and this is reflected in the way in which the room is worked and the audience feels included rather than shoved into the spotlight.
In all, Messiah Man is certainly a piece to look out for, and its creators should be proud of what they have achieved so far. It remains to be seen if the play’s energy and confidence can be maintained over its entire duration, but in the two weeks of rehearsal so far, the close-knit group have created a play both entertaining for its comedic offerings, and worth watching for its strong and involving plotline.
Messiah Man is running at the BT Studio from Tuesday 7th Feb – Saturday 11th Feb at 9.30pm. Tickets are £6/£5.