Written by the South Park team of Trey Parker and Matt Stone with Avenue Q’s Robert Lopez, The Book Of Mormon arrives at Manchester’s Palace amid the sort of hype that has made it a very hot ticket indeed, with most of the fuss seeming to be about how ground-breakingly outrageous, but hilariously funny, the show is.
There’s actually some truth in that, particularly if you find the relentless use of the work ‘fuck’ hilarious in and of itself. Personally, I really don’t really give that much of a fuck about the use of that word or any of its scatological companions, on or off stage. Nor do I find the concept of baby-raping by AIDS-ridden Ugandans the height of satirical commentary, or genital mutilation as a comic plot device particularly savoury. But I would, as they say, absolutely defend their right to say and sing that and no-one could deny the impressive energy the cast devote to doing so.
Equally, I’m not a Mormon, nor has my conversation with any member of that church ever extended much beyond variants of “just go away, will you”. But I’m more than willing to go along with the mockery of any religious affiliation, especially one based on such apparently preposterous precepts. What’s more they inflicted The Osmonds on the world, so for that alone surely deserve vilification. In passing, this might be the only show where I’ve noticed credits for Legal Counsel.
So the show doesn’t exactly live up to its ‘ground-breakingly outrageous etc’ billing. But that doesn’t mean it’s not extremely funny in places and there are a couple of set-pieces that are really terrific, notably a Mormon Hell Dream sequence apparently set inside a glittery vagina – yes, it really is that sort of show. Another wonderful set-piece finds the Mormon missionaries, including the obviously closeted Elder McKinley (Will Hawksworthy, whose performance is one of the show’s highlights), flamboyantly tap-dancing to possibly the show’s best actual song Turn It Off, while there are enjoyably arch digs at The Lion King and even The King And I, for heaven’s sake.
Kevin Clay and Connor Peirson, as the mismatched missionaries Elder Price and Elder Cunningham packed off to Uganda in a woefully misbegotten expectation of baptizing people whose day to day lives involve confronting poverty, AIDS and kill-crazy warlords, have both been part of North American productions for years and their double act on stage slickly ekes every last bit of sympathy from their characters’ idiocy.
There’s plenty to enjoy in the show then, and it might well be worth the inevitable struggle to acquire tickets, but despite the tumultuous reception it got on opening night, don’t believe the hype.
Images by Paul Coltas
The Book of Mormon is at the Palace Theatre, Manchester, until August 24, 2019. For more information, click here.