Jim Duffy finds himself among those in floods of tears – of laughter – as others in the audience for the musical, The Book of Mormon, sit stony-faced.
No-one really likes an unexpected knock at the door. Who could that be? I’m not expecting anyone. No parcel deliveries. Maybe it’s the neighbour. Maybe it’s someone checking the electricity meter. I wonder who it could be? Of course there is still one potential unannounced visitor to your home. A visitor who means you no harm. A visitor who wants to bring sunshine into your life. Yes, that smartly dressed young man with a Simon Cowell smile thrusting the Book of Mormon into your hands. And the chance to find out about that wonderful paradise called ... Salt Lake City.
I confess I did not know a lot about the Book of Mormon until recently. Not because someone knocked on my door to offer me a copy. No, I was lucky enough to go see the West End show in London aptly named, The Book of Mormon. But before I proceed to tease you with some more, there is a health warning.
Frankie Boyle, the well-known Scottish comedian, is an acquired taste. Mr Boyle will take you to places you have never been before. He will shock you with satirical wit that makes you laugh nervously and loudly at the same time.
If you ever get to watch a Frankie Boyle DVD or show on the streaming services, you will know what I mean. Mr Boyle will thrust a quip at the audience, which is funny, shocking, disturbing and vivid, all at the same time. Many will laugh with no conscience. But, about half the theatre will titter nervously, hoping that the video camera does not catch them as they are embarrassed and not sure if the content or context is actually funny or miserably offensive. Their conscience and sense of what is morally right and wrong kicks in to make them question him, the joke and themselves. Welcome to the Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales Theatre. It’s a similar kind of performance.
I’m no theatre critic and this is no plug for the show. To be honest, I did not know what to expect from a musical about a Holy Book, apparently the third book after the Old Testament and the New Testament. And here was me thinking the Bible was a wrap after the Book of Revelation. As usual, all those who had bought tickets looked calm and dignified as they entered this small, boutique venue. Not like a Frankie Boyle gig where the whole front row consists of tattooed women, half-drunk blokes with dodgy haircuts and lots of white socks. No, this lot looked a wee bit more sophisticated. Well heeled. Probably visited the local wine bars for one before they arrived. One group of males sat adjacent to us. One of them stated he was going to the bar. Three diet cokes, an IPA and two waters. Definitely not the staple imbibe at a Frankie Boyle night oot.
The show was what I can only describe as out of this world. An “A plus” for everything. Simple and beautifully choreographed with great music and scenery. But, the reaction from the crowd revealed a very interesting fork in the road. As I literally wept with laughter, giggling like a giddy schoolboy who has just been slipped a swig of Buckfast tonic wine at the school Christmas party, I was in awe at the shape of this musical satire. I had to take my glasses off several times to wipe tears from my eyes. The humour was shockingly hilarious. It encapsulated all I was taught, indoctrinated, learnt and worried about religion and guilt ... and hope. But not all was well in the Prince of Wales and as I looked around, I could not understand why so many were stony-faced. Then it hit me. It was just too much for them. They had not signed up for a pseudo-Frankie Boyle gig disguised as a musical journey into the Book of Mormon with brutal satire shrouded in song. Nothing was off limits. From suppressing homosexuality within oneself to female genital mutilation and dissing religion, all interlaced with colourful language in a twisted discourse of self awareness. No, it was too much for half the audience as they had a mirror thrown up right in front of their faces. The Book of Mormon had knocked on their door and they were caught unawares.
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I continued to howl with laughter right up until the final standing ovation. Of course only half the audience were on their feet, those who got it and loved it. While the other half – either unimpressed, offended or simply questioning the questions that the show had thrown up – were applauding quietly. Still unsure about what they had just witnessed. For them it was like going to see a circus clown who unexpectedly dropped his pants and flashed them. They were still in shock. They expected the Lion King but were confronted by a skinhead Simba making Adolf Hitler Nazi salutes.
In an era where video streaming and tech has overtaken so much of what we consume, I am delighted to let you know that the theatre is still a wonderful place to go and be thrilled. Certainly, you can opt for the classic musical in the likes of Aladdin or indeed the Lion King. But, satires like Book of Mormon can entertain, while making you think hard about your views, values and core beliefs. There is no doubt that the quieter half of the theatre will still be thinking about the verbal and visual assault on them that took place that night.
It will have made them reflect on topics like religion, sex, race, class etc. For them, in a weird sort of way, the Book of Mormon has indeed knocked on their door unexpectedly. It might not lead them to Utah, but it may precipitate a more fuller understanding of who and what we are as human beings.