Theatre review - The Book of Mormon at Palace Theatre, Manchester
PUBLISHED: 11:47 13 June 2019 | UPDATED: 16:44 13 June 2019
I have seen Book of Mormon twice now, less than twelve months apart, and laughed like a drain on both occasions, repeatedly taken by delighted surprise at the story, the jokes, the song lyrics…the whole glorious shebang.
As storylines go, this one takes some beating - with the 'true' aspects being as ridiculous as the fiction. One thing's for sure, this is not a show for those who dislike strong language or the poking of fun at religion or cultural stereotypes. But it is genuinely no more than that: just a prod and a poke and a recognition that sometimes the deepest of beliefs are based upon the flimsiest of foundations. There is also a recognition that faith, the complete trust in a deity, a something or a someone, can be a powerful force for good and this is handled (albeit briefly) with a gentle sensitivity.
Moment of gentle sensitivity aside, the rest of the show is a riot of satirical mickey-taking, and I loved every moment of it.
It's not easy to summarise, but here goes. Meet the newest graduates from the Mormon missionary college: aged 19 they are being sent, in matched pairs, to the furthest corners of the world to spread the word about the Heavenly Father and how the Mormon faith can bring you to paradise on the Latter Day. Elder Price (Kevin Clay), the indisputable star of his year group, is smugly expectant of a plum posting. Instead, he is matched with the class disaster, Elder Cunningham (Conner Peirson) and they are sent to Uganda. Cue the onset of every cultural joke you can imagine, from The Lion King to AIDS, from rickety tin shacks to vicious war lords. (NB: General Buttf***ing Naked is possibly the best war lord name you will ever encounter. He believes in FMG, shooting men dead on a whim, and violently suppressing any hint of rebellion. And yet…funny.)
They are charged with bringing the villagers of one particularly troubled village to the Mormon faith, and it proves a challenge too far for Elder Price, as he adheres rigidly to the teachings of the Book. Cunningham, however, who hasn't even read the book, has a great deal more success. Unfortunately it's based on a convoluted series of lies and fabrications, involving hobbits, the Death Star, magical frogs and more weird and wonderful twists than you can possibly imagine. The way this plays out is possibly the best moment of the whole show, a play within a play that had the audience around me almost crying with laughter.
Price and Cunningham may be ill-matched, but on stage Clay and Peirson are the perfect coupling. Their duets are unbeatable, their talents extreme - but then the same can be said for the rest of the cast too, who are all incredibly slick, with tight dance and song, fabulous delivery of some outrageous lines and a general brilliance that doesn't go unnoticed by the audience.
Highlights are many, too many to mention, but I have to pull out a couple of personal favourites. The 'Turn it off' song and dance number is gaspingly funny. Taking the opposite view to pretty much every therapist and life coach in the world today, the uptight Mormons insist that you suppress any feeling that makes you uncomfortable. Guilt? Turn it off. Gay thoughts? Turn them off. It's both uncomfortable and hilarious, but that's the joy of this show - it makes you question everything, points out our dichotomies, our smug white man assumptions, our preferences for turning away from difficult subjects and highlights the realities that govern our lives - all while being desperately funny. The Spooky Mormon Hell Dream is also a rib-tickler, with demons and devils teaching Elder Price a lesson, after he gives up on his mission and oh, Man Up, Elder Cunningham's big self-talk to get him to step up to the task, is a cracker.
Seriously, this has to be the best funny show you will see this year, if not ever. Luckily the run has already been extended twice, right up to Saturday 24th August, as demand has been so high, so you're still in with a chance of a simply excellent night out - if you hurry!