Cut and pasted from the National's website:
The National Theatre took part in the 400th anniversary celebrations for the King James Bible. An ensemble of leading NT actors, directed by Nicholas Hytner, James Dacre and Polly Findlay, read twelve extracts from the Book that changed the world.
I am saying upfront that this is MY personal reaction to the readings - other people will have different reactions and feel differently about the actors and the performances that I am talking about. One man's meat is another man's poison. If you do feel differently please do speak up and have your say.
I saw 9 out of the 12 readings (I missed Psalms of David and Song of Solomon, The Gospel According to Mark, and Revelation).
The Old Testament. The only reading that I truly loved was the first ("In the Beginning") because it covered Genesis and many of my favourite Old Testament Bible stories (or at least the ones that I am most familiar with), including the story of Joseph. I loved the telling of the Joseph story. But by far the best reader in the Old Testament section was Paterson Joseph (he played Moses). His reading of the Biblical text was, quite simply, on another level. He spoke the text with poetry and beauty and you felt that he really felt the text in his heart.
But the over-ridding impression for me of the Old Testament was that I, quite literally, could not wait for them to get those over and done with so we could move onto the New Testament and the story of Jesus.
So, moving rapidly on to the New Testament ...
I REALLY LOVED most of these, in particular the Gospel according to Matthew, the Gospel according to Luke, and the Gospel according to John. Of these I loved Luke and John, for reasons I will explain below.
Paul Ready played Jesus in the Gospel according to Luke and Andrew Scott played Jesus in the Gospel according to John. Both Paul Ready and Andrew Scott made the Bible text come alive for me in a way that I had not experienced before (except as a girl whilst watching Jesus of Nazareth, starring Robert Powell). With both of them, I did not even bother looking at the other four readers on stage, even though in Paul's case one of the speakers was Mark Gatiss and in Andrew's case one of the speakers was Alex Jennings. I just focused on "Jesus" and what he was saying. For all the readings, as I had booked very early on, I was in Row C of the stalls bang in the centre. It felt to me, with both Paul and Andrew, that I had "Jesus" right there in the theatre, in front of me, preaching his message direct to the audience. I do not need to talk about the beauty and poetry of the language in the King James Bible - it rivals Shakespeare. That is why the King James Bible is, and will always be, my Bible of Choice. Both Paul Ready and Andrew Scott's performance as Jesus was off the scale. They brought out the poetry and beauty of the text and they read the text with real feeling, emotion and passion, as though they felt the words in their soul. This, presumably, would have been how Jesus would have spoken these words. Regardless of whether he was the Son of God, you cannot dispute that he was a charismatic leader who had the ability to rouse people and make them leave everything behind in order to follow him. So I guess what I am saying is that the two standout performances for me, across the whole set of readings, was Paul Ready and Andrew Scott, both playing Jesus (I guess they had an advantage!).
Photo credit: http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2009/aug/12/sea-wall-heaven-fringe-review
I am ashamed to say I actually walked out of Revelation. This was nothing to do with Simon Russell Beale or his performance - I am sure he was excellent. It was just that after seeing Andrew Scott play Jesus, and preach Jesus's message to me direct, and bring it home to me in a way I had never experienced before, the last thing I wanted to do was sit through a load of rubbish about devils, demons, three 6s and the end of days.
Mark Gatiss was part of the ensemble reading the Gospel according to Luke. He read very precisely and clinically, and was faultless. But it felt to me, as though he had no connection or empathy with the text or any appreciation of the poetry and beauty of the language. I think it was the most souless performance I have ever seen Mark give - he normally brings real life and energy to a piece.
Hopefully later on today, I am going to run a Bible text from The Gospel according to John in tribute to Andrew Scott's performance.