It is very rare that a critic is short or even lost for words. Typically, there are faults and flaws to dissect and assess, or, perhaps more infrequently, for this reviewer at least, praise and adulation to award. However, every once in a while, one finds themselves in the unfortunate position of being unable to properly address and communicate their feelings – a sensation I at first felt in the instance of St Andrews’ University’s Christian Union’s production of the Gospel of Mark. The production was intense, powerful and overwhelming, and, as such, it took a few hours for the messages and brilliance of the performance to properly sink in. Indeed, despite my humble belief in my own writing ability, I offer my apologies now, for no words that I can say will ever truly do this performance the justice it so deserves.
Frankly, Mark Drama was superb. It was ripe with anguish, the cries and shrieks of raw pain echoed throughout the church, and emotion bled through the performance from start to finish. It was a formidable and passionate rendition of Mark’s gospel that was at times both hauntingly beautiful and justifiably tragic.
Following the entire gospel, almost word for word, the production acted as an accurate and engaging device — one which is especially pertinent following the recent Easter weekend. In shadowing Jesus from his baptism, to his works of kindness, to the crucifixion and finally the evocative conclusion of the discovery of his empty tomb, Mark’s gospel provides a penetrative insight not only into the final events and works of Jesus’ life but also allows for the exploration of his character, the disciples’ mentalities, and universal themes regarding morality, mortality, belief and complete and unwavering trust. As such, this production was inevitably always going to be bursting with emotion and humanity.
Despite the lack of professional student actors, lighting, staging teams or costumes, the performance was only enhanced by these omissions adding to the raw and sincere nature of the text. Performing in the round allowed for sensitive and ingenious staging which also, to the delight of the audience, brought which it much participation and the breaking of the forth wall — all of which added to the inclusive and open feel that epitomises Christianity. Consequently, Scott Hamilton’s vision and creation as director must be noted and respected for its simplicity and honesty — for never have I seen so many affected by such a humble representation. Additionally, all of the cast, none of whom have acted before, must be celebrated for their intense and poignant portrayals. For instance, the cast’s variety must be praised, as the use of improvisation by the disciples, expressing originality and humour, to their later forlorn and distressed depictions, all added to the production’s accessibility and timelessness. The greatest amount of acclaim though must be bestowed upon Benjamin Davies who took on the role of Christ himself. In a moving and complex portrayal Davies’ character was one of morality and passion, with his agonising cries during the crucifixion having echoed in my head since being one of the most memorable and painful experiences of my first year. Thus, Davies receives the utmost amount of respect I have ever given any actor, for taking on one of the most famous men and illustrating one of the most known stories in history is by no means an easy feat.
Yet, perhaps the greatest shame of this performance does not lie with the cast or crew but instead must be placed on the St Andrews community for its poor turnout. This production, whatever one’s faith or belief, provided the opportunity to educate St Andrews’ students in a thrilling, sensational, and emotional representation of universal and timeless messages that overcome the boundaries, restrictions, and differences of religion. As such, this reviewer desperately calls for an encore of this overwhelming and evocative piece of drama in the hope that more students, from across our small community, will not only take the time but also open themselves to the opportunity to explore and engage with the enduring legacy that is aroused through Mark’s Gospel.
Indeed, this production was one of the few that has really affected me whilst in St Andrews, and, surprisingly, despite its theatrical inconsequence, will be a performance that I doubt I will forget for a very long time. Thus, throughout my long interest in university theatre, having attended almost every possible show I could during my first academic year at St Andrews, I can honestly and thankfully say that the Mark Drama was the most moving and powerful production I have had the privilege of witnessing in this small town.