Black Jesus

Reviewed by Tom Lodewyke

"And do you know why I was called by that name? Because I decided who would be saved and who would be condemned. I took that responsibility for others and now I take it for myself. I am Black Jesus. I do not crawl."

Anders Lustgarten's Black Jesus, performed by bAKEHOUSE in its Australian premiere, is ferocious. 

Pieced together from brief, emotionally electric interactions amid the turmoil of the commission of inquiry into the crimes committed under Mugabe's rule, the 75-minute play brings together fear, pain, frustration and compassion . 

The characters serve a symbolic function, with some representing government corruption, others privilege, and Gabriel Chibamu - Black Jesus himself - the anguish of both victim and perpetrator. 

Elijah Williams' performance as Chibamu was powerful, by turns callous and raw. The dynamic between he and Belinda Jombwe-Cotterill (who played Eunice Ncube) was sensitive and nuanced, as she clumsily but gently drew out his story. 

The one downside of Williams' fiery presence was that the scenes without him sometimes lacked pace, although Jombwe-Cotterill, Jarrod Crellin and Dorian Nkono inhabited their characters admirably. They were supported by Alex Jalloh, whose tooth-rattling drumming coursed between the scenes. 

The double-sided stage, in the close confines of Kings Cross Theatre, gave the performance a visceral immediacy, while the bare-bones staging matched the storytelling and allowed the space to be filled with pride, pain and conflict. 

Perhaps the fault lay with Lustgarten's script, in which dialogue sometimes became a vessel for political statements rather than character development - understandable, though, considering the enormity of the subject and the arguments that needed to be made clear to the Western audience. 

Black Jesus distills trauma, injustice and empathy into the dilemma embodied by its titular character: how to look ahead while the horror of the immediate past remains unresolved? 

Playing at KXT until 21 May 2016. 


Photos by Nick McKinlay