Review: I am Mark⭐⭐⭐⭐

Spoken word

I am Mark

Scottish Storytelling Centre, v30

17:30 (run ends 17 August)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4 stars)

I’m really swithering over the stars: three or four? In the end, I decided on four because it was a compelling performance which happened to be of material I knew too well for comfort. The Gospel According to St Mark is narrated ‘live as it happened’, as if for the first time to an audience who had never heard it before, telling the good news of Jesus’ life and teaching, the parables he taught, the miracles he performed, the storm of opposition whipped up by the official Holy Men who couldn’t cope with the revolutionary message he preached, his trial and ultimate terrible death.

And it was fascinating hearing the slightly abridged narrative, rather than reading it, whether in bits or all the way through it’s also presented very differently from the small chunks dished up by the priest in my catholic childhood and young adulthood. It’s only when you hear it all the way through that you realise just how pared down Mark’s account of Jesus’ life is – not a lot of teaching, only a few parables: a lot of miracles: no sermon on the mount, no feeding of the five thousand, a very short last supper: most noticeable of all, no resurrection and appearance to his friends after his death – just three women going to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body and finding the huge stone rolled away so that they could get in and see a young man dressed in white who told them Jesus was no longer there, that he was going before them into Galilee as he had promised, and to go tell the others. But the women didn’t go and tell the others: they just ran away because they were afraid.

So, almost against my will I was impressed as the over-familiar words were made new: part of me wishing I could be hearing them for the very first time indeed, to see what effect they would have. Stefan Smart does a very good job of making the characters come alive, and setting the scene with only a chair to help him. He also involves his audience throughout – offering us the opportunity to sample the locusts and wild honey John the Baptist lived on in the wilderness, and sharing bread with them at the last supper, and speaking directly to us as though we were his personal friends. He smiled a lot, which at first made me think uneasily of fervent evangelicals trying to convert me: but I think he was trying to convey Mark’s joy in the story he was telling us – it’s unusual, and slightly unsettling to see someone smiling so much isn’t it?

We were invited to stay behind and have a conversation with Stefan – I should have liked to engage with him and find out why he has taken this performance to so many places; why this is his second year at the Fringe; and what his audience makes of the show – whether it changes their lives in any way or if they simply see it as ‘just another Fringe show’. If it’s evangelising it’s a more striking way of bringing people to Jesus’ teaching than either being harangued by earnest people in the street or many of the sermons I’ve endured. If it’s simply a one-man show, I have to say it’s a

good one – admittedly with a cracking script written a couple of thousand years ago… The audience seemed very appreciative and in no hurry to leave.

Mary Woodward