Review: I’m Not Jesus Christ, Theatre N16 at Wandsworth Arts Fringe

“I’m the Schumacher of storytelling”

There aren’t too many opportunities to see a bit of Romanian theatre in London so from the start, Papercut Theatre’s production of Maria Manolescu’s I’m Not Jesus Christ is fascinating. Part of a bit of ambitious programming at this year’s Wandsworth Arts Fringe festival, it is playing at the Theatre N16, currently residing at the Bedford pub in Balham

Developed and translated during the International Residency at the Royal Court in 2007, I’m Not Jesus Christ is based on an unlikely but real life story. Michael Schumacher super-fan and 11-year-old Mihai decides to celebrate his upcoming birthday by getting a prostitute, an encounter that goes disastrously wrong when his mother Maria comes home early. 

It’s an awkward thing for your mother to see under any circumstance but it’s particularly bad for Mihai as Maria believes him to be the Second Coming, having kept him out of school in order to train to carry out miracles. And as we see in the excruciatingly awkward conversations between Mihai and the girl Ana, and then latterly Maria, there’s an unimaginable sense of desperation and desolation at the heart of this story.

If Romania comes to the attention of the majority of British minds at all, it is usually through orphanages or toxic headlines about asylum seekers, so it is extremely fascinating to delve beyond that into an unalloyed slice of Romanian society. And though it is extreme, its exploration of how people in straitened times cling to their gods – whether organised religion or its modern equivalent ‘the television’ – in hope of some kind of salvation.

Melissa Dunne’s astutely cast production also makes a set of interesting decisions to force us to look at the almost cartoonish way we view violence, particularly towards sex workers, and at the way in which we use storytelling to protect ourselves and our loved ones, even to their detriment. As the play progresses though, it loses a little of its intensity into the fantastical ether.

That said, Andrei Costin’s Mihai is a cracking piece of acting, given the age he’s playing, drawing the audience in to a shared sense of mystery, and culpability. Isabella Urbanowicz roots Maria’s almost crazed religious zeal in a place of real honesty, and there’s strong work too from Maria Alexe and Sharon Duffy in a piece of theatre that is constantly but interestingly challenging.

Running time: 80 minutes (without interval)
Photo: Tomas Vorel
Booking until 26th May

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