“Oi! Come and join me!” shouted a suitably forceful Jesus to the fishermen, as he bade them to help him net disciples, rather than fish.
Or at least that’s what he shouted in this modern remake of the new testaments opening book, originally compiled following the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD.
Starring George Dillon as the titular Apostle, this emotionally charged monologue focused on the message of loving thy enemy, by narratively remaining faithful to the scriptures, while dragging it into the 21st century through the use of its multimedia accompaniments.
These included an original atmospheric soundtrack, and some haunting visuals, which focused on more recent atrocities, from the rise of the Nazis to the fall of the Twin Towers, to the carcasses of sheep and the plight of the homeless.
The language was also brought bang up to date, and the twelve disciples were presented in a comical, almost Monty Python-esque fashion, as they attempted to understand the teachings of their messiah by testing his patience with seemingly obvious questions.
All of which was single-handedly portrayed by an impassioned George, who deserved an award simply for remembering the words to such an epic tale, in what was an accomplished, urgent and at times angry performance dripping with vitriol.
Regardless of your faith, or lack thereof, this was a powerful piece of theatre which is, with its message of turning the other cheek, as relevant now than ever.
Mark Rees, Review Wales, 5th April 2013
Originally published in the South Wales Evening Post by South West Wales Media
George Dillon has been performing his one man show The Gospel of Matthew for a number of years now. He has made this form of theatre his own, and it is easy to see why as it suits his style. He is a powerful performer, mesmerising to watch, who is technically very skilled, in complete vocal and physical control of his performance and brim full of conviction, a theatrical pile driver who can also be gentle and subtle when he needs to be.
The Gospel of Matthew also suits him perfectly. This is a Jesus who has a passion for social justice and a fierce intelligence, a Jesus with no fear of authority. There is nothing meek and mild here. It is the Jesus of the gospels, not that of flower arranging and cups of tea with the vicar, and it is strong meat. This man was dangerous to the authorities of the time and he was prepared to take them on on his own terms. It was only going to end one way. Whether you believe that he was the son of God or not is irrelevant, this is a compelling story which drives forward with great force. Hearing the whole gospel from beginning to end told by a master storyteller gives you the whole man and you are able to watch the complete arc of the story play out inevitably in front of you.
It is a very simple piece of storytelling, a single figure lit by candlelight on an empty stage, but we are not simply given a recitation. As the story unfolds we see not only Jesus, but a proud centurion, devious pharisees, befuddled disciples, a haughty Pontius Pilate who is full of distaste for what is being done and many more. These characters are conjured up swiftly and accurately, sometimes we are shown what they are thinking by a single pause or gesture. It is all done with breathtaking speed and precision. This is grand acting kept in check by perfect physical and vocal control, there to serve the story and calculated to make specific points. It is George Dillon’s own translation of the gospel but it stays close to the original, there is no clever modern reworking, just quite subtle touches which clarify and underline the meaning for a modern audience.
It is a very upfront and uncompromising piece of theatre. There is nowhere for the audience to hide as George Dillon insists on your attention, making eye contact and forcing you to listen. I was on the front row and when he pointed straight at me, glaring, and declared that I was the salt of the world there was no doubt that this was a direct challenge, not a compliment. The smart older lady who I shared the lift with after the performance was still bemused. She shook her head at me and admitted, “I’m not sure what to think after that powerful performance”. She was alone and I’m guessing that she was a local churchgoer who had fancied a nice Easter treat by candlelight. It hadn’t been the Jesus she was expecting but maybe not being sure what to think was exactly the result that the show deserved. Too many people, whether they are militant atheists or bible bashing Christians, think that they know the truth. It’s a lot stranger and more real than most people allow themselves to think. Through this show you can examine yourself and your own attitudes in the company of a great actor telling a great story. That’s enough to be going on with.
Patricia Rogers, Patricia Rogers' weblog, 31st March 2013
Human messiah with revolutionary message
“Oy!” was the rather unexpected way that Jesus summoned his first disciples in George Dillon’s dramatic interpretation of The Gospel of Matthew at the Capitol in Horsham on Wednesday, March 27.
This contemporary interpretation of the Gospel is delivered with spellbinding force.
The one-man show, which must be exhausting to put on, is backed up with music and back-projected images, which enhance the narrative.
George Dillon dominates the stage and necessarily performs all the characters.
His vision of Jesus is a very human one. There is frustration with his disciples falling asleep on duty and anger at the money-changers polluting his father’s temple. Images of the horrors of the last century – the death camps, 9/11, the persecution of the palestinians for example, form the backdrop to Jesus’s revolutionary message, “love your enemies, bless those who persecute you.” This is what the world looks like if people ignore that message.
I attended this performance with members of Ark – the Horsham charity which tries to put Jesus’s message into practice.
I would have liked to see more school parties at this performance. It was educational.
It would start off a thousand discussions.
Derek McMillan, Mid Sussex Times, 15th April 2013
Versatile actor’s solo tour-de-force
How many actors could play Hamlet, Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols, a disaffected actor and the writer (debated by scholars I understand) of Matthew’s gospel?
Since the mid 1990’s, I have watched George Dillon play all these roles with equal conviction and success.
Having endured indoctrination in a Catholic primary school, I’ll freely admit I haven’t opened a bible often in the past 40 years.
Listening to George Dillon, you hear Matthew’s gospel fresh and unadorned.
His Jesus is witty, charismatic, intense and uncompromising so that it didn’t seem surprising that the fishermen simply abandoned their nets and followed him.
Likewise, his message to the rich man, the abused, the sick and the judgemental was stark.
Like Jesus, they must submit to the will of god and accept the command, made famous in the Leonard Cohen song, ‘If it be they will’.
The production is much enhanced by simple haunting guitar music and lighting effects.
Behind Dillon, a video provided historic context and grim reminders from the holocaust to the present that humankind has yet to be redeemed by any kind of faith.
In his book ‘The Year of the King’, about playing Richard III, Sir Antony Sher wrote that he would never again mock audience members who asked how he managed to “learn all those lines”, as he found it a such a struggle. Dillon performed this solo tour de force without a single glitch I could detect for well over an hour.
His vocal skills are formidable. His movement – informed by his practice of the Japanese martial art of kendo – is compelling.
Since my last visit some time ago, Horsham’s Capitol has been transformed and its art deco facade has spawned a spacious glass foyer and bar. The beautiful auditorium is a pleasure to visit.
I am pleased to see that The Gospel of Matthew has already sold out in Scarborough.
For anybody – of any faith or none – who enjoys seeing a consummate performer strut their stuff, this is a must.
Jacky Hilary, West Sussex Gazette, 5th April 2013
The second show that Dillon performed at the Atlantic Fringe Festival was The Gospel of Matthew (aptly and beautifully at St. Matthew’s United Church) which I found to be absolutely mesmerizing with a power and urgency that truly made me feel like I was witnessing and hearing one of the most well-known stories in the world, the teachings, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, for the very first time.
This was the performance that I found Dillon using his unique acting style in a true alienation effect, keeping the audience’s messy emotions, which are so usually triggered by the telling of this story of Christ, at bay in favour of engaging the mind. For the first time, Dillon forced me to really listen to the words written so plainly in the Gospel of Matthew within their own context of time and of place and to inquire and probe every line for its multitude of possible meanings.
Dillon’s construction of Christ is wildly different from any representation I have ever seen and it changes the nuances of everything that so many of have blindly taken for granted in this chain of events, many for their entire lives. This Jesus is absolutely human and filled with flaws. Actually, my initial reaction to him was that he was a wildly angry elitist asshole. He is filled with contradictions, preaching tolerance and exclusiveness, holding his disciples to an impossible standard of complete and divine perfection, looking upon them as simpleminded morons while judging lawyers and Gentiles and the Occupiers (and really anyone who wasn’t a subservient Jew willing to follow him mindlessly) whilst clearly condemning judgement at all cost and warning of God’s impending wrathful Judgement of the Judgers.
It suddenly becomes stunningly clear why so many wars have been killed in this man’s name, while so many have equally passionate but entirely disparate interpretations of what this Gospel is “really saying.” It is also amazing how much of what is being said, about the corruption of the Priests and the “righteous” by money, for example, is glaringly relevant to our contemporary lives. Yet, so appropriately, even though this Jesus is by no means perfect, when he is so convoluted and impossible to pin down, we cannot write off everything he says as the ramblings of a madman. There is still a prophetic element to his words and he still offers us the simple truths of love, of kindness, peace, charity and humility. Although the words of Matthew seem to condemn knowledge and ask us to accept all we are told without question or doubt, Dillon rejoices in reminding us that even in the most fixed words, their intention is something we superimpose and construct ourselves, like actors choosing their motivations in a monologue.
Amanda Equality Campbell The Way I See It Theatre Blog, 11th September 2011
Playing upstairs in the black box of The Nightingale Theatre surrounded by a semi-circle of candles, water, stone and bread, Matthew enters gripping every audience member by the hand and so begins an inspiring evening.
George Dillon manages to make each scene so vivid and alive through a multitude of characters (some humorous, some severe) just with nothing more than his voice and body - creating a simple and beautiful world. I was truly drawn in and left spell-bound.
The modernisation and translation of the language was unique and made it fresh and very accessible.
There is nothing else to say, other than it was an awesome and inspiring evening, by far the best thing I have seen in a very long time and I urge you to go see it for yourself. 5 Stars for a 5 Star Performance. .
J.W., FringeReview, 17th May 2007
28th August 2004
GENTLE Jesus, meek and mild? Hardly. In George Dillon’s startling adaptation of Matthew’s version of the Gospel Christ is an extreme, scathing radical.
Without altering the text other than slightly updating the translation (Christ’s despair on the cross, for instance, drops the "forsaken" to demand "My God, why did you leave me?"), Dillon’s fierce, almost frightening performance brings out a sort of savagery in the words.
Matthew’s Christ, after all, says: "I come not to bring peace, but a sword", and commands his followers to abandon family, work and self for him.
It’s an interesting contrast to the on-screen violence of Mel Gibson’s The Passion Of The Christ, which pulled a phenomenal audience for its bloody torture and suffering, patient Jesus. Barely lowering his voice below a shout during the whole show, Dillon draws on a heritage of fire-and-brimstone preaching, mostly lost in this country but surviving in the rolling cadences of African-American gospel ministers.
It could not be a less reverent delivery - the disciples, in particular, are mocked as dumb brutes - but it is a deeply serious one.
The setting is crucial: in the dark church, the altar hidden by a giant white sheet showing occasional hallucinogenic imagery. A spooky electronic soundtrack and excellent lighting effects combine with Dillon’s rage to bring shivers.
Yet what, exactly, is he trying to convey? Images of Hitler and the Holocaust accompany prophecies of the end times and the trials of the Jews, with the Intifada, Osama Bin Laden and the collapsing World Trade Center following in hideous train. Is Dillon suggesting that Christ’s message brought us all this - or that it came to save us from it? I don’t know, but he does succeed in making you hear the words anew.
Andrea Mullaney, The Scotsman, 28th August 2004
25th August 2004
If you prefer your legends directly from the New Testament, rather than the Apocrypha, you might turn to George Dillon’s dramatic retelling of The Gospel according to St Matthew — as it happens, the saint to whom Rosslyn is dedicated.
Dillon is a self-confessed disciple not of Jesus but of Steven Berkoff, from whom he has learnt much, both as writer and actor. As a result, his own radical but thoughtful translation of the gospel is accompanied by a certain amount of shaven-headed ranting. There are times when it feels as if he is trying just a bit too hard to turn Jesus into a freedom fighter rather than a preacher.
But there are also moments of quiet dignity, such as the agony in the garden of Gethsemane, and challenging images, nowhere more so than when he gets to the overthrowing of the money-changers in the temple and the projections on the giant screen behind him, which generally show a series of abstract images or pieces of text, abruptly turns to a sequence of still images of the World Trade Centre under attack.
Robert Dawson Scott, The Times, 25th August 2004
18th August 2004
If there is another one-man show on the Fringe which demands more of an actor than this, I would be very surprised. In an hour and a half George Dillon performs the entire Gospel of Matthew from the begats at the beginning to the resurrection. I use the word "performs" advisedly, because that is exactly what he does. It is far from being a simple reading and very far from being "churchy".
Dillon uses all his acting skills - and they are many: the strong and flexible voice and physical expressiveness which have gained him many awards. In both you can clearly see the influences of his early years with Steven Berkoff, further developed by the work he has done to develop his own style.
The production values are excellent: a subtle soundscape (all one track, so the performance has to be exact), video and text (in English, Greek and Hebrew) projected onto the back wall, and a very effective lighting plot.
In spite of what some critics have said, this is not an evangelical piece, although at the performance I saw the Christian element of the audience was very vocally enthusiastic. Dillon, in fact, sees it as political, and so it is, in the sense that the Jesus portrayed here is not the "gentle Jesus meek and mild" of popular iconography, and the whole interpretation is very different from that other theatrical version of the same Gospel, Godspell.
It is an impressive performance. He has found the theatricality of something that is inherently non-theatrical.
Peter Lathan, www.BritishTheatreGuide.info, 18th August 2004
17th August 2004
George Dillon's dynamic rendering of the first gospel is gripping theatre. His presentation of Matthew's particularly Jewish Jesus is vivid and compelling. The familiar lines come alive in a production which highlights the offensiveness of the preacher from Nazareth, who was the kind of subversive guest who might cause a serious breach of the peace at your nice dinner party.
Ron Ferguson, The Herald, 17th August, 2004
Y'know, if George Dillon had been the guy in the weird duds telling it like it is in church of a Sunday when I was a kid, I'd probably still be going. So, I reckon, would a lot of other people, too, for it's hard to imagine how anyone could fail to be riveted by this virtuoso display of storytelling verve, this masterclass in self-belief.
Based on Dillon's own particular translation of Matthew's gospel, the show begins with the hooded actor dwarfed by an enormous back- projection of a perfect blue sky, and the first words he speaks are of genealogy, of who begat whom, perhaps the first thing that comes to mind when someone with a Christian education remembers how boring the Bible can be. But then he starts to tell a story, a story in which the central character speaks with absolute authority, with crystalline clarity, and with a radical vision of love which seems to cry out to be heard in our own times more than ever. Indeed, Dillon conceived the idea for the show shortly after September 11th 2001, and the sequence in which Christ expels the moneylenders from the Temple, to a back-projection of a certain towering skyscraper, is both poignant and inspired.
In conception, The Gospel of Matthew is a brilliant vehicle for the sheer force of Dillon's acting persona. Overall, this is a compelling performance by playwright and actor utterly convinced of his cause.
Lorraine McCann, EdinburghGuide.com, 16 August 2004
15th August 2004
Given the drama and emotion that is part and parcel of the story of Jesus Christ, it would take a powerful stage performance to bring this version of St Matthew's Gospel to life, and fortunately, in the form of award-winning actor George Dillon, we had one.
This was, from the beginning, a vibrant staging of one of the earliest historical accounts of the life of Jesus and whatever your religious beliefs, there could be no denying that this was a riveting version of what is, after all, one of the best-known stories in the world.
Dillon came over as a belligerent, demanding and even intolerant Jesus, forcing his disciples and others to adhere to his beliefs and follow his lessons. Aided by a back screen showing various modern images with which to compliment the actors declamations, I was overall extremely impressed with this superb version of a story that deserved a much larger audience than was in attendance, but who nevertheless applauded mightily by the end.
Liam Paterson, Scotsman.com, 15th August 2004
Originally appeared here
21st August 2003
Nominated for The Stage Best Actor Award
There is certainly no ignoring George Dillon and his epic, impassioned telling of Matthew's gospel. Dressed like a prophet himself, he lends his account a visceral, biting, colloquial power that is at times quite stunning.
It is also unashamed. His is a Christ who does not simply bring peace to the world but also anger, fire, denunciations and, yes, drama. He is son of man, a prophet, not a man whisked down from the heavens to sort out the world. His Lord's Prayer is utterly immediate, segueing in from a conversation, it is a plea, a shout, shaking us from its familiar words to address and question its actual meaning as if for the first time. Flashed into a backdrop are stunning images of fire and beautiful tranquil water motifs. At times there are horrific pictures of more modern suffering. Not the most original thing to do but there is no doubting the forcefulness and power of it all.
Sometimes Dillon's passion gives way to ranting and shouting but his range is undoubted. It is also a blessed relief to have something religious on the fringe which is neither mindlessly evangelical nor trite about the subject.
Ben Dowell, The Stage, 21st August 2003
14th August 2003
It is a true test of a performer to take a subject as unsexy as the life of Jesus and transform it into a solo show devoid of props - reliant on the power of words alone. George Dillon took that test andThe Gospel of Matthewis our reward. A captivating storyteller, Dillon paces the floor taking the audience with him as he relives the story of the Messiah who wasn't a long-haired hippy, forgiving of all sins, but a flesh and blood man who scorned the wicked and feared the ultimate sacrifice; his death. Challenging and unrelenting, this is a production that commands your full attention.
Corrie Mills, The List, 14th August 2003
12th August 2003
The Jesus presented here is a terrifying zealot, bathed in red light to a horror film soundtrack, with whom I think neither our average churchgoer, nor Dr Carey nor even the Pope would feel much sympathy or recognition.
And this isn't just a story. You can't relax into the fire-and-brimstone tub-thumping because people's views of this stuff still changes lives. This is Christianity you wouldn't want to meet on a dark night.
Josh Goodman, EdinburghGuide.com, 12th August 2003
12th August 2003
Matthew's gospel is in some ways the strangest to modern ears. Writing for a Jewish audience, the evangelist paints the picture of a very Jewish, very apocalyptic Christ. Matthew is keen to prove that Jesus of Nazareth is the fulfilment of the messianic prophecies in the Hebrew scriptures.
George Dillon's Jesus conveys that sense very well. The uncompromising, fiery, ungentle Christ of the first gospel, insisting that he has come to fulfil Jewish Torah and not destroy it, is portrayed with passionate concentration.
The multi-media one-man show uses sounds and graphics well. Dillon's performance is marked by energy and intense focus presenting, rightly, an uncomfortable, severe and challenging Jesus of Nazareth.
Ron Ferguson, The Herald, 12th August, 2003
10th August 2003
With the aid of a strong musical score and well-utilised video projections, George Dillon's one-man show tells Matthew's Gospel with a compelling combination of stylised yet persuasive movement and bold enunciation. His Christ is as robust as his performance. His is a saviour who has come to rage at money changers in the temple and to be a home breaker, demanding his followers forsake their families for him.
But Dillon's Jesus is no radical reinterpretation, and the piece is so conventional that evangelical Christians are more likely to be inside praising its version of events than outside castigating its perceived blasphemy. With so many well-worn stories, it is, in effect, Jesus's greatest hits.
Mark Brown, Scotland on Sunday, 10th August 2003
10th August 2003
Very impressive - and don't be put off by the religious subject-matter. If anything, this is more a political play than any sort of Christian preaching - to look at the story of Christ objectively and realise how shocking his words must have been at the time was something of an eye-opener (and this is from a complete non-Christian). It won't convert you, and it won't even try to, but for a fresh, invigorating look at Christian politics, this is well worth it.
David Kettle, Edfringe.com, 10th August 2003
4th August 2003
THIS multimedia show opens with a filmic fast-forward through 2,000 years of Old Testament heroes. Dynasties speed past as a stream of "begats", sounding at first portentous and then absurdly like the song Moses Supposes. It is all rather puzzling, until George Dillon drops the hood on his simple white costume and speaks the words of Jesus.
In this one-man show, Dillon portrays a huge range of New Testament characters. He must engross his audience for a full hour and a half, a task that stretches even his formidable talent to the limit. Nevertheless he succeeds in transporting us back to the time of Christ and his disciples.
What overwhelms is the absolute relevance of these ancient stories to the contemporary scene. The simple clarity of the teaching of Jesus transcends specifics of time and place. The basic common sense of doing right unto your fellow humans, walking the extra mile and acting charitably is forcefully put. The radical message of loving one's enemies has never sounded so revolutionary, straightforward, obvious and utterly sensible.
This is Dillon's own translation of Matthew. Some colloquial paraphrasing adds the force of plain-speaking to the mysterious beauty of those startling New Testament metaphors. Dillon's version of the Gospel is about a million miles away from dreary sermonising, happy-clappy evangelising or shallow, Lloyd-Webber extravaganza.
Though a wealth of sound, light and video is lavished on us, this is no sentimental spectacle. The experience is pure and cerebral, moving the spirit via the brain as well as through the heart and senses. The Crucifixion is presented in an understated manner that appeals to reason and demands our compassion. One despairs at the mindless mob, and the way that human stupidity seems to prevail. At the same time, we are left with a tiny seed of hope.
Diane Dubois, The Scotsman, 4th August 2003
31st July 2003
George Dillon presents his own translation of the Gospel of Matthew, the earliest account of the life of Christ. It is given reverence as a piece of writing, and its author placed on a par with the (Son of) Man himself. It is a performance of such clarity and power that I am certain he knew almost exactly what I was thinking for the entirety of the show. The show was late going up and Dillon fluffed his lines on more than one occasion, but this honestly can't dent the brilliance of the show. If you are not watching this at twenty past six, then feel guilty, because I sincerely doubt that you will see a show that is as truthful as this in many, many years. We are worthy to receive him.
tt, Three Weeks, 31st July 2003
22nd May 2002
I remember the Bible as a collection of vague stories heard during brief moments of consciousness in Religious Education classes.
If Brighton actor George Dillon had been my RE teacher, I'd have remembered a soul-searching story crammed with miracles, betrayal, suicide and death.
Although it is one of the greatest stories in history, the life of Jesus Christ is all too often sapped of life by uninspiring storytellers.
What Dillon has done is take the intense drama of the Gospel, maximised the emotional impact, pumped up the intensity and created a mesmerizing one-man show of sheer brilliance.
A Steven Berkoff protege, Dillon displayed incredible discipline and control throughout.
He played everyone from Jesus and his disciples to God himself and used images of the World Trade Centre and the Holocaust to give parables a modern slant.
The overall effect masterfully snared our attention for every second.
Jakki Phillips, The Argus, 22nd May 2002
21st August 2004
LIFE on the Fringe in Edinburgh can be experimental, challenging and controversial. In his one-man show,The Gospel of Matthew, George Dillon uses music and video to back up the story of Jesus's words and actions.
The Jesus that comes across was described byThe Heraldas 'fiery'. George tellsThe War Crythat anger was something he found in the text.
'The characterisation of Jesus in Matthew is quite angry,' he says. 'He is angry towards his disciples because they frustrate him, he is angry towards the priests, the hypocrites, and he expresses quite a lot of what will happen to people at Judgment.'
Anger also played a part in the show's development. George remembered his admiration for Bob Geldof's righteous anger in demanding that people give their money to Live Aid. Over the past three years he has also found himself growing angry at what he believes is 'Bush and Blair's total ignorance of what Jesus came to tell us', demonstrated in their decisions to go to war since the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The message of Jesus, George says, is in tune with the challenging and controversial spirit of the Fringe. 'When Jesus said things like, "Go and sell everything you have and give to the poor", I think he meant it. I think he meant it when he said, "Don't worry about food and clothes and drink because God will look after you." It has taken me a long time to absorb those messages.'
Which of Jesus's words have been the most challenging to George?
'Undoubtedly, "Don't judge people." I have always known that I am quite a judgmental person. I also know that if you are judgmental towards other people you are also judgmental towards yourself.
'Jesus taught people to pray "Forgive us our wrongs as we forgive others." That 'as' does not mean 'in the same way as'; it means 'at the very moment' that we forgive other people we are actually allowing ourselves to be forgiven as well. If you are always condemning other people's sins, then your own sins will weigh heavily on you.'
George says there is a huge challenge in Jesus's way of explaining love in terms of not judging people, loving them no matter what, loving them if they're your enemies.
Furthermore, he says, it is a universal challenge, deserving to be heard again by Christians and everyone else.
'I don't tell people what my beliefs are,' he says, 'and I am not trying to convert people to any particular vision of Christianity. I just want people to see the show and be moved by it - to think about the issues, look at their lives and, if they need to, change.'
This afternoon George will be putting Jesus centre stage again. The challenge is: Should we put Jesus centre stage in our lives?
The War Cry, 21 August 2004
Girton Baptist Church Website
George Dillon is an actor who appears alone for ninety minutes on stage delivering an extraordinary performance as he recites the key passages of the Gospel of Matthew.
In simple white trousers and tunic, he brings charisma and fresh revelation to words and stories that are so often read with wooden and familiar monotony.
His solitary voice is expressive, mesmeric and dynamic, sending audiences home with a new eagerness to check out the teachings of Jesus for themselves. " Did Jesus really say these things? Yes he did! Wow! I never noticed that before," they will say.
There are no props on stage, only a series of brilliantly designed lighting sequences and computer graphics. A great circle of colour swirls downwards, decreasing to a point at the end of a whirlpool, reminiscent of that moment when Jesus, the Light, the Eternal Word, left the vast resources of heaven, to descend to become a minute speck of human life.
That solitary voice at Galilee began a movement amongst human souls to change history for this world and to populate eternity. How often it is the single, lone voice that starts an avalanche of change, a reshaping of attitudes and a new direction for society.
Iris Niven, Girton Baptist Church Website, August 2004
EDINBURGH Fringe award-winning actor, George Dillon, staged a riveting life of Christ at this year's festival - and he's keen to present it at churches around Britain. The Gospel of Matthew, Dillon's one-man 90-minute production brilliantly dramatising key events of the Gospel, ended its 26-night run at Edinburgh's Adam House Theatre on Monday. Now it goes on tour nationwide, with forthcoming shows scheduled for Taunton, Preston and St Albans - but all in arts centres, not churches. 'I would love to perform it in churches, both because the subject is obviously so appropriate, and because it is vital [that] drama is done in non-theatre spaces in the community, like churches,' he said.
Dillon portrays the Jesus in Matthew as no 'meek and mild' Saviour, but rather a totally demanding, utterly uncompromising, no-holds barred fighter for God, struggling for the Kingdom, and ruthlessly denouncing hypocrisy and injustice. His production is not a memory feat of every word in the Gospel - 'I tried that and it took over three hours' - but a painstakingly crafted text, incorporating large Gospel extracts, linked by paraphrasing and some sequence changes to heighten dramatic input. [He sets the rich young ruler episode after the entry into Jerusalem]. None of this deliberately distorts the meaning. Most unusually for contemporary drama on this theme, Dillon's Gospel of Matthew is wholly authentic to the biblical text. Dillon brings out levels of meaning in Matthew rarely heard in pulpits. His rendering of Jesus's righteous anger is simply shattering; his Lord's Prayer has an all-to-rare note of urgency. Acting his own translation - 'I worked on the Greek, using many different translations'- he deems Matthew 'the most dramatic of the Gospels because it has the most conflict in it'.
Several years in preparation, Dillon's biblical play was sparked by a strange incident at Euston station. 'I was sitting on the concourse reading Matthew - Jesus's cleansing of the temple - but had not yet decided to stage it. Suddenly a drunk shouted, "There goes St Bob", and I saw Bob Geldolf striding across the station. 'For me, his passion for Africa's hungry people was an image of the character of Jesus. That decided me: I realised the anger of Jesus about injustice and felt inspired to do this production.'
Dillon resolutely refuses to answer questions about his personal religious beliefs. He says, 'I am very careful on this point. If I say what my beliefs are, people will say I'm using the play to promote a particular line. My work must speak for itself - in this case, let the Gospel speak for itself.' He won international acclaim in the 90s for serious one-man shows, and he has performed at 12 Edinburgh festivals. He says his motivation is 'Purely theatrical, but for me, theatre is a holy place, where actors create a secular communion with the human spirit of the audience'.
Performed on a bare stage with a video projection of Bible texts and abstract images, Gospel of Matthew could be staged in suitable church venues 'by negotiation'. Why should a church arrange to stage Dillon's Gospel of Matthew? 'I am disappointed and surprised how few church groups and Bible study groups have come to performances,' he says. 'I was once asked, "Is it suitable for Christians?" I replied, "It is the Gospel". I especially want Christians and others to hear the familiar sayings of Jesus in a new way. 'I always hold an after-show discussion: so many questions come up. I hope Christians would be challenged in some way. or just have their faith confirmed. And I intend to go on doing this production for another 10 or 20 years.'
Brian Cooper, The Church of England news & The Baptist Times, September 2003
The genius of George Dillon and his one-man production of 'The Gospel
of Matthew' is that he takes the Biblical text and transforms it to
a living, vital theatrical experience. It would be more precise to say,
however, that he has allowed the text, with minor adaptations, to shape
the tone and range of this powerful performance. Visually, the performance
is striking from the moment the actor, head shaven to the skin, takes
the stage to play in front of media and electronic images that accentuate
the here-and-now nature of his message. But it is always the gospel
text in vivo which is most up-front from the audience's perspective,
seamlessly flowing between first, second and third person narrative.
Dillon's dramatic interpretations are at times surprising, such as the matter-of-factness in Jesus' miracles or his devastatingly self-assured dealings with the 'bishops and priests'. And although at times I would have wanted him to take a kinder, gentler tone (in the passage regarding children, for example) to counterbalance his much employed denunciatory stance against the religious establishment (airy-fairy Jesus, this is not!), he can only be complimented for disturbing his audiences from any preconceived notions about the gospel story. That he does so with a clear rendition of the ancient text in a contemporary setting is very much to his credit.
I was very much attracted by the blinding passion with which he plays Jesus, Matthew the storyteller as well as the various other characters in the show. In conversation, after the play, I learned that his intensity is very much driven by a desire to see the message of the Gospel of Matthew 'performed' in the world. This he achieves not only by inspiring us through the performance but also by communicating something of the conviction which I imagine Jesus' disciples must have had, having themselves lived the drama of Jesus' life and resurrection. It is simply the best presentation of the biblical text I have ever experienced.
Ivan Khovacs, Lecturer, Institute for Theology Imagination and the Arts, University of St Andrews, August 2003
George Dillon's Tour Dates
(as of Sunday, 23 February 2020)
2nd March 2020