Review: The Book of Mormon at The Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff
Well, that was certainly something different! Crude, vulgar, provocative and at times made me seriously wonder I’d be going to hell for laughing, but nonetheless, it was absolutely brilliant.
The Book of Mormon has long been on my radar as a South Park fan. I was never allowed to watch the show when my school friends did, so it was only in my early twenties that I discovered the comic genius of Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Their brand of swear-word-heavy satire transitions seamlessly from animated sitcom to Broadway, and with Robert Lopez (Avenue Q) joining as Composer, the production has garnered an impressive string of awards since premiering in March 2011 (nine Tonys!).
The musical follows two Latter-day Saint missionaries looking to share the teachings from The Book of Mormon with the inhabitants of a remote village in Uganda, desperately trying to convert them and gain as many new recruits for the church as possible. Extreme poverty, famine, illness and Warlords threatening to kill families every day are just a few of the issues the villagers are facing, so joining a new religion is the last thing on their minds. The duo have a great challenge ahead and it's wonderful fun watching the story unfold.
Aviva Tulley shone as the sweet and endearing Nabulungi. A feisty character with equal measures of strength and naivety; Tulley carried her solo vocal performances effortlessly. Conner Peirson as the bumbling Elder Cunningham had the audience in stitches throughout, whilst Robert Colvin’s Elder Price was warm and likeable, despite his self-centred Ken-doll-esque demeanour. Their blossoming bromance was a plot highlight for me. But Jordan Lee Davies as the flamboyant Elder McKinley stole the show – I’ll be looking out for his name in the future and can’t wait to see what he does next, what a dazzling performance! Costuming and set changes were incredible; it was a far more visually satisfying show than I’d imagined it was going to be.
The show is jam packed with intelligent social commentary, set to catchy tunes (Spooky Mormon Hell was my favourite!) and dialogue delivered with impeccable comedic timing by the cast. This is satire that shocks, but is extremely clever at its core and makes for numerous belly laughs along the way. Yes it’s silly on the surface, but getting the writing so perfect and managing to make a story with lines such as ‘I have maggots in my scrotum’ have genuine heart to it takes some real flair.
The writers don’t pull any punches when it comes to its relentless teasing of Mormonism (and religion in general...and America in general!). But it isn’t a cutting criticism with any nasty intent. It’s kind, not snarky, and reminds you that it’s good to be able to laugh at yourself. Yes, many of the jokes are centred around how all religious stories can seem rather far-fetched and outdated, but the subtext hints that if you look at the teachings more metaphorically, you can do good and have a positive impact on the people around you. I think it’s telling people to be more open minded. When you add that to the other themes I picked up on, such as believing in yourself, sticking things out at difficult times and working towards positive change, you realise that this is actually an incredibly optimistic piece.
I’ll leave with a note on how exciting and comforting it felt to be back in the theatre watching this fantastic cast perform to a sold out, captivated audience. The Book of Mormon is the first musical to play at the Wales Millennium Centre in the last 18 months and the vibe was electric - thank you to everyone involved in the performance for bringing us all a much-needed dose of lightness and laughter.
Book your tickets now, as The Book of Mormon is showing in Cardiff until 30th October.