God is the King of the Universe, Creator of space and time and, in actual fact, pretty fed up too. Thousands of years after appearing to Moses at Mount Sinai to reveal the Ten Commandments, God has grown weary of them and the way they’ve been used throughout history, and so has inhabited the body of an unsuspecting human to announce an updated version for the modern world.
Welcome to An Act of God, now playing at London’s Vaults. Based on David Javerbaum’s twitter account which now has an impressive six million followers (check out @tweetofgod when you need cheering up on a bad day), An Act of God opened on Broadway in 2015, with The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons and later Will and Grace’s Sean Hayes taking on the role of the big man himself. This time it falls to comedian Zoe Lyons to deliver God’s message – that’s right God is back and, as many of us suspected, she’s a woman! Clad in white silk pyjamas, Lyons lounges in a hotel room as she imparts ten new commandments, from ‘Thou Shall Not Tell Me What To Do’ to ‘Thou Shall Not Kill In My Name’ while explaining the rationale behind Her choices, reflecting on the world today, and providing a few anecdotes about what really went on behind the scenes with Ada (that’s Ada, not Adam) and Eve, Abraham, Moses and Jesus.
With a comedian at the helm, expectations for the show are high and thankfully An Act of God lives up to the hype. With direction from Benji Sperring, the show sees the ten new commandments read out by God’s trusty sidekick, the Archangel Gabriel (Tom Bowen), the show’s eye candy, as he flexes his muscles and also provides an amusing summary of proceedings using the dark walls of the Vaults as a blackboard. Meanwhile the Archangel Michael (Matt Tedford) sits with the audience, interrupting from time to time with some burning questions and issues he – and a lot of people – have had over time. The humour travels well across the Atlantic, and the show is brought bang up to date for the British audience, with well-known politicians, Prince Andrew and of course Brexit being discussed (complete with a Brexorcism involving holy water). An Act of God isn’t just a comedy however, though of course there are some hilarious one-liners and the odd joke a little close to the bone for some. The show provides some food for thought with how people in today’s society use God to justify their actions.
The Vaults can be a tricky venue at times, but for this show the setting works, even if God originally wanted the Palladium (“The Vaults”, says Lyon. Are “perfect for those who like to combine a night at the theatre with legionnaire’s disease”). The dark walls double as Gabriel’s blackboard, passing trains add to the sound effects, while Tim Shortall’s set, relatively simple in design, makes it feel as though we’re all enjoying an intimate audience with God in Her hotel room. Clancy Flynn’s lighting combines with Yvonne Gilbert’s sound to great effect, spotlights and heavenly sounds giving Gabriel his angelic presence as he reads out the new commandments, and red lighting and demonic music helping to change the tone of the piece when God is particularly irate (and as someone with wrath management issues, She’s irate A LOT). The other-worldliness of the piece is helped out by a few clever magic tricks thanks to Scott Penrose – the audience witness God turning water into wine among a few other little ‘miracles’.
Zoe Lyons is obviously used to laughs in her day job and she’s very good in this, showcasing her great sense of comic timing and wickedly sarcastic nature as she delivers her lines in style. Her facial expressions also make an impact, eliciting plenty of laughs and also sympathy when God seems to regret some of Her past decisions; but it’s when her anger boils to the surface that she’s at her best. Tom Bowen provides excellent support as the ‘teachers pet’ Archangel Gabriel and, although he does feel underused at times, his blackboard updates provide an abundance of laughs. It’s Matt Tedford who very nearly steals the show with his performance as Michael. With his west country accent and cheeky glances at the audience, Tedford impresses throughout as Michael grows in both confidence and dissatisfaction with his boss.
A riot from start to finish, An Act of God is a wickedly funny play with brilliant one liners, excellent observations and some neat magic tricks woven in for good measure. A devilishly good show, it’s just what we need to lift our spirits during the dark and dreary winter months.
An Act of God is playing at the Vaults until 12 January 2020.
Photo credit: Geraint Lewis