“Some things are better left out of the history books”
Have you heard the one where Jesus, the three wise men and Caligula walk into a pub? No? Well it is pretty much the set up for John Wolfson’s curious new play The Inn at Lydda, at least once you’ve thrown John the Baptist and Tiberius Caesar in there as well. An eclectic bit of programming in the candlelit surroundings of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Wolfson has spun his tale from a tidbit in the New Testament Apocrypha and taken it to almost-farcical levels of comedy.
Ailing Roman Emperor Tiberius Caesar has heard of a legendary healer over in Judea and so off he pops to be cured by him, only problem is we’re in the days between the Resurrection and the Ascension. Stopping off at a hostelry in the city of Lydda where this news filters through, their party bumps into Tiberius’ lascivious great-nephew and heir Caligula, plus three weary travellers who have been waiting 33 years to reunite with a man who might just be hiding in a nearby cave.
And from this amusingly unlikely scenario, Andy Jordan’s production skitters around the slightly uncertain tone. The banter between Richard Bremmer’s Balthasar, Kevin Moore’s Melchior and Joseph Marcell’s Caspar is straight from a Grumpy Old Men sketch, Stephen Boxer’s brutally murderous Caesar has his edges softened by his wideboy doctor (David Cardy’s Thrysullus) and Matthew Romain’s John mourns the death of his friend whilst fending off invites to orgies from Philip Cumbus’ petulant and lustful Caligula.
By the time the play winds round to graver discussions of the abuses of authority, the futility of trying to cure its corrupting power, and how organised religion wields the same potentially nefarious impact as the imperial largesse here, it’s ultimately quite hard to then take The Inn at Lydda seriously. Samuel Collings is suitably inscrutable and ethereal as our Lord and saviour but if you’re asking what would Jesus do, I think he’d recommend this with caution.