The phenomenon of “God TV” has come to the UK in the Heather Brothers’ Holy Crap. In an attempt to bring the first pay-to-view religious TV channel to the UK, Vinnie Ginelli (Nuno Queimado) took a big risk. However, investing the mafia family’s drug money in the hope of getting a squeaky clean output has turned out to be an unwise decision as the station makes huge losses. It turns out that “these Godless Brits don’t want to be saved” (or rather they don’t want pay for the privilege of being saved). Partnered with the morally bankrupt Bible Belt Clarissa Lafayette (Rachel Marwood) and the frontman of the show, Cowboy Reverend Bobby Del la Ray (John Addison), the unholy trinity of Vinnie, Clarissa, and Bobby need to convince the godly Rex Bedderman (Arvid Larsen) and Destiny Jackson (Letitia Hector) that the way forward is to reinvent the station as a pornography channel.
The Reverend Bobby is a fraud but he likes the power that comes with his status. He hoodwinks Rex Bedderman one of the original founders of “God TV” that this change in direction is the only remaining option for the channel, manipulating signs from the Lord himself (a slightly bizzare puppet). The only person who can see the plan for what it is is the pious Destiny, The Television Standards Agency after receiving complaints takes action to shut the station down, but things turn murderous and chaos ensues.
If you have read this far you’ll be wondering how this could possibly translate onto the stage, but at moments I can assure you that it does. Holy Crap Kicks off with a punchy and upbeat number, featuring both a catchy chorus and some solid vocals. However from here the music feels repetitive and the initial imagination seems to wane quickly. There are some points where the diction makes the lyrics hard to hear and there were some sound imbalances, but these can surely be remedied. However, as late-night entertainment goes, the energy and enthusiasm of the cast coupled with some excellent biblical puns is enough to get any audience on board.
As an exploration of power and religion the production does well. Holy Crap portrays the process of indoctrination convincingly, with an edge of satire. The character of Reverend Bobby has a cult leader’s charm and the transition of his followers from passivity to violent minions seems almost inevitable. It appears that all that is really required is to have someone of significant respect endorse a change in theology for it to be accepted. The power of the media is placed on a pedestal next to that of the Church with the combination proving catastrophic: “We are constantly warned of the famine in Africa, but it took a photograph of a starving child for the world to stop and take notice”. This is what the dastardly trio behind God TV intend to emulate with their new theology: apparently only by showing and committing sin, will a person truly know one sin is and be able to be redeemed. There is a definite sense of irony in the media’s initial reaction to the pornographic changes on the station as they are condemned on page three of the newspaper (where The Sun have been all too happy posting topless images). God TV’s theological shift states that to “fight sin you must be able to recognise sin” and the instigators of the channel attempt to “make a virtue out of sin itself”. Television becomes a means of radicalisation and, when the show is under threat of being closed down, mobs violently take to the streets.
The standout performance in Holy Crap comes from Emma Salvo who takes on many of the ensemble roles as well as narrating the show. Her charisma drives the plot forward and clarifies some of the parts that are difficult to immediately grasp. On the whole there is some development that needs to take place, particularly with the pacing, as Holy Crap could probably benefit from being about twenty minutes or so shorter. There are also some awkward scenes with cousin Luigi and the fate of Bobby’s Mum who have slightly off-kilter Italian accents. All in all, this is a fun production that is a valuable addition to late-night fringe theatre here in London.
Holy Crap continues at the Kings Head Theatre until the 8th July. For more information and tickets see here.