The Gospel of Matthew by Candlelight: Reviews

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.

James Weisz, FRINGEREVIEW, 17th May 2007

I try not to overuse the phrase “tour de force” because I think that it is typically made commonplace as reviewers rush to use it in the depiction of nearly every single performer show. Yet, George Dillon, a star of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival who has descended upon the Atlantic Fringe Festival this week with four very distinct one man shows, gives me no choice but to herald him a “tour de force” and to mean it from the bottom of my heart…

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 have been killed in wars 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

Swivelling arms, pointing fingers and strutting legs drove home the well-voiced message…. Change your ways, love your enemies, turn the other cheek. Refuse not the needy, salute those you don’t know. Don’t celebrate your own religiosities. Christ and His gospel must come before parents, wives and children. Trust God for material needs, lay up treasure in Heaven, not on earth.

Gentler gesticulation illustrated the needs of little children and some wondrous miracles of healing. The centurion’s awesome, dignified faith for the recovery of his servant; the healing of individuals such as a timid woman who crept from behind to touch His clothes. And the ultimate evil, the beheading of John the Baptist, to pander to a party girl sent by her mother before a crowd of acquaintances.

Minimal movement adorned the description of the breaking of bread, and the solemn dismissal to go into all the world when Christ miraculously appeared after His crucifixion.

A Bible teacher could say that over-much ground was covered in two hours. However, the crowd of around 100 sat still, even in the cramped pews of St John the Baptist church in Windsor. Merely a battery of candles was the sole illumination on the floor serving as a stage. Yet the figure of the solo actor was both eye and ear-catching.

We could not fail to be moved.

Richard Bolt, WINDSOR EXPRESS, 16 March 2012

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