30 May 2013

A Little Less Mutilation, a Little More Comedy Please

Before Tuesday night, pretty much everything I know about the Mormon faith I learned from fashion, style and lifestyle blogs — an unfair sampling, perhaps. I'm not sure that I know a whole lot more after going to see The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales Theatre. A friend with much better contacts than I was able to score great tickets for a group of us back in February and I've been looking forward to it ever since.

The Book of Mormon, London edition

I liked Team America and, in small doses, South Park, so I had high hopes for The Book of Mormon, and it was great, sweary, inappropriate fun. The plot, such as it is, involves two young Mormon missionaries, Elder Price (played by Gavin Creel) and Elder Cunningham (usually portrayed by Jared Gertner, but his understudy Daniel Buckley stood in last night), who are assigned to be "companions" at the same mission in Uganda. Price rather fancies himself and is mortified to have to spend two years with the chubby, over-keen geek, Cunningham. He's even more devastated that they were sent to Africa and not his dream destination: Orlando, inexplicably. Soon after arriving at their Ugandan village, they have their luggage stolen by a gun-toting general with an NSFW name, and they begin to realise that a) Africa isn't the same as in The Lion King and b) it's going to be harder than they thought to convince the locals to convert, as they have bigger concerns: like AIDS. And female genital mutilation.

The cast of The Book of Mormon take their bows

And here's the problem: where do you draw the line? To some extent, it's "OK" to laugh at some of the African scenes, because, as with Borat, we are laughing at the dumb Americans' reactions to Africa. That degree of remove makes it somehow acceptable. I didn't find any of the female genital mutilation lines funny, however, and not just because I don't think it's a funny topic. After seeing some of Trey Parker and Matt Stone's other work, I was expecting The Book of Mormon to be offensive, and it was. But it also felt like it had been censored for the stage, and maybe it was because of this that some of the gags weren't as funny as they needed to be. I laughed a lot, for sure, and the African villagers' re-enactment of the story of Joseph Smith and of Mormonism was brilliant, but many of the laughs were really just chuckles.

The singing was good — there weren't really any stand-out songs, but I liked a lot of them — and the dancing and costumes were impeccable. I thought Daniel Buckley rather stole the show, although his character does get the easier laughs than his uptight buddy. And Alexa Khadime, who plays a sort of heroine, has a superb voice. The whole ensemble performed well, though. The Book of Mormon is a great show, and it's definitely worth buying tickets — if you can get hold of them for a sensible amount.

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