Review-Last Days of Judas Iscariot-Aurora Theatre


By: Tony Yoo

I want to see more of Satan.

This rare epiphany will ring true for scores of theatregoers this weekend at the McAulay Studio.

Alex Sommerville’s terrific performance as the Angel of Darkness is a highlight in The Last Days of Iscariot, a court drama of Judas’ trial in Hope, a town in Purgatory.

Written by US playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis, the Aurora Theatre production rolls out a cavalcade of historical (and dead) personalities to the witness stand – Satan, Mother Teresa, Pontius Pilate, and Sigmund Freud, amongst others.

The dark comedy touches on guilt, absolution, value of religion, and the fallibility of God with snappy discourse between the witnesses and the lawyers. Humour is injected throughout, although the script may be seen as too “New York”, with plenty of Brooklyn accents and jargon that may not realise its full potential on a non-American audience.

The two lawyers, Defence Counsel Cunningham (Nicole Garbellini) and Prosecutor El Fayoumy (Lester Ryan Clark), put in enduring performances as the bond that holds the show together. El Fayoumi, from Hell, has consistently funny lines and Clark’s slick portrayal had the audience thoroughly entertained throughout, although purists may deem the caricature a relatively easy part to play.

The first act is fast paced with quick dialogue and frequent scene changes. After the trial is finally granted after some lobbying from Cunningham, witnesses are called to the stand one by one. But short break-the-fourth-wall monologues and scenes from the life of Judas break up the courtroom scenes. This structure continues until the end and helps to sustain interest for the three-hour duration. The play does not indulgently test the patience of the audience.

Mother Teresa (well played both physically and verbally by Susan Lavender), Judas’ mother (Jessica McClellan), and Simon the Zealot (Matthew Gillespie) all testify in the first half, before Satan enthrals with his first appearance. Interval is brought on after a very amusing scene of Satan meeting Judas at a bar after the day of betrayal.

The scenes in the second act are meatier as the play begins tackling its themes more seriously. Freud, Caiaphas, Thomas the Apostle, and Pontius Pilate have their say in court before Satan makes a repeat entrance – resulting in the most fiery dialogue in the whole production. He hits a raw nerve with both lawyers, who until then had been proud and confident. After a draining examination of Satan, Cunningham furiously asks “Is God’s love conditional… hence false and unworthy?”

The climax of the play sees a post-trial confrontation between Judas and Jesus whereupon that central question is directly posed: Why were so many other people loved and saved but not Judas? Why was he condemned to become one of the biggest villains in history? Is God’s love conditional? Harry Oram is admirable in the physically demanding role of Judas – he is on stage for almost all of the three hours.Jury member Butch Honeywell’s (Brad Powers, also the director) cameo to close the show adds a melancholy end that ensures the experience is not completely sugary and personalises the themes for the audience.

This is a show that may see opinion divided. The themes are handled even-handedly, but like anything that deals with religion and morality, the way an individual reacts to it is very much dependent on their own experiences and values. Some will enjoy it as an excellent analysis of morality and religious institutions. Some will see it as treating important matters perhaps too frivolously. Some will be offended by the perceived attacks on their religion.

Aurora Theatre has assembled a large 19-person cast for The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. There’s a mix of veterans and faces new to Hong Kong theatre. Unfortunately HKELD has been told that this will be Lester Ryan Clark’s last performance in Hong Kong – and playing the crowd favourite El Fayoumi makes a worthy farewell.

Considering the spatial demands of the play and its direction, the limitations of the small McAulay Studio thrust stage is sometimes felt. Minor staging flaws like projection not fitting onto a uniform surface does distract, but only for very short periods. If audience demand was assured this production could well have been improved on a larger stage.

The humour, universal themes, and the pace of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot overcome the shortcomings and are worthy of a trip to the Hong Kong Arts Centre. It also feels like a show that one would enjoy even more of the subtleties on a repeat viewing. And at just 240HKD a ticket, why not!

The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is playing through Saturday at the McAulay Studio in Wanchai. For more information, click here.

Rate This Show: 1 2 3 4 5 Audience Rating: 4.0


  • Meaghan
    16 April 2013

    test test

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