MORMON CONQUESTS

Gavin Creel (Elder Price) in The Book of Mormon. Photo by Joan Marcus - 3590r.jpg

This Season: for her theatre highlight, Isabel Lloyd chooses a joyous new musical about America that has "bonkers specifics"

From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, January/February 2013

Somewhere off stage a doorbell rings, and a clean young man in a white-shirt-and-smile combination steps into the spotlight. "Hello!" he beams. "My name is Elder Price. And I would like to share with you the most amazing book. It’s a book about America…"

He’s so right. Seeing "The Book of Mormon", the Tony-gobbling musical from the creators of "South Park", on Broadway two years ago was like watching America dissect itself—while barely able to hold the scalpel for laughing at what it found. 

You’d expect sharp satire from Trey Parker and Matt Stone. The fat little prepubescents they animated had filthy mouths, with ideas that bit. But what British audiences will find most shocking in this story of two hapless American missionaries at sea in an African state, is just how fully it brims with good-natured warmth. Parker says he grew up on sunny, Rodgers & Hammerstein Saturdays at his local movie house, and it shows—this is his "Oklahoma!", though peopled with warlords, starving children and men who sing, with utter conviction, "I believe that the Garden of Eden is in Jackson County, Missouri."

Belief is the heart of the matter. The bonkers specifics of much of the Mormon faith act as a crisp metaphor for the American credo that things can always get better. All Parker and Stone have to do is quote the faithful—"I believe that Jesus has his own planet!"—and the laughs follow like water cascading down a hill. 

But it’s not worth getting too serious about. More important is the fact that the songs are joyful, the cast (including Gavin Creel as Elder Price, pictured) twinkle-toothed and footed, and you are unlikely ever to laugh more in the course of two hours. The Mormons may not have got their man into the White House, but they’ve landed the world’s best musical. Hello, indeed.

The Book of Mormon Prince of Wales, London, from Feb 25th

THEATRE AT A GLANCE

Rutherford & Son (Viaduct, Halifax, Feb 8th-16th, then touring). A rarely performed Edwardian gem that—because it largely confines itself to the emotional dynamics of a wealthy manufacturing family—still feels spankingly modern. Written by a woman (Githa Sowerby), edited by a poet (Blake Morrison) and directed by a knight (Sir Jonathan Miller, in his first British directorial outing for five years).

Old Times (Harold Pinter, London, to Apr 6th). The West End has learnt lessons from the National’s "Frankenstein": Kristen Scott Thomas and Lia Williams, both stars in their own right, double the box-office demand by alternating roles in Pinter’s remembrance of things nasty. Rufus Sewell—ripely loopy in the BBC’s recent "Parade’s End"—is the piggy caught in the middle of their games.

Quartermaine’s Terms (Wyndham's, London, to Apr 23rd). Simon Gray’s poignant, if rather dated, comedy of 1960s staff-room manners is a favourite with rep theatre, but this revival is likely to be less creaky than most, as Richard Eyre has nabbed Rowan Atkinson to play the nice-but-dim lead—his first straight play since Chekhov’s "The Sneeze" almost a quarter of a century ago.

Port (Lyttelton, London, to Mar 24th). A mostly young cast takes on this new play from Simon Stephens, directed by Marianne Elliott, about a teenage girl and her little brother growing up in—or out of—the more forgotten edges of Manchester’s suburbs, with barely any help from adults. The National says it’s suitable for those aged 15 and over, so expect an audience as untried as the performers.

The Audience (Gielgud, London, from Feb 15th). Helen Mirren dusts off her crown for a second outing as HM the Queen, though this time she plays Elizabeth R from youth onwards, as the writer Peter Morgan considers how she has coped with the 12 different prime ministers who have had a weekly audience with her throughout her reign. Stephen Daldry directs; a transfer to Broadway seems almost inevitable.

Isabel Lloyd is deputy editor of Intelligent Life and a former features editor on the Independent