If you had approached SUDS’ latest offering, The Book of Job, with some measure of apprehension, you would not have been without reason; the relevance or appeal of an Old Testament text to contemporary audiences of student theatre is not immediately apparent. And yet director Elijah Fink’s show makes a strong case for itself, taking a story that is inaccessible to most and presenting it to us as a curious, compelling narrative.
The play begins with narrator Jestika Chand sitting alone on stage, reading and chuckling to herself before giving a startled shout when she realises she is being watched by an audience. This opening is enough to dispel any fears that this will be overly stuffy or self-serious, and throughout the night, the light-hearted, comedic points of the show hit their mark with near perfection – Jimmy Pucci is especially delightful to watch as a young, nervous and verbose Elihu.
Job, played by Tushar Prasad, gives a similarly impressive performance, though his character lives and dies miles away from any sort of comedy; Marcel de Vera’s resonant vocal timbre and faultless diction lend God a befitting gravity (he is God, so, you know).
This is sort of where it doesn’t quite fit together, though – the cast excels in their separate roles, but the tone of the show is jerked from sombre to funny and back again so many times it feels disjointed. While I can see this as potentially attempting to highlight the greater indifference of the wider world to Job’s suffering, the back-and-forth fell into too fatigued a pattern and I found myself losing interest at a handful of moments.
And while the poetry of the script is very much undeniable, the sheer volume of monologues was often asking too much of me and my poor attention span; the same narrative could have been delivered with more dynamism.
Those who are familiar with the logistics of Slot 10 might know that it is habitually the slot with the most punishing time constraints, and this is perhaps to blame for the haphazard costuming – with more attention to detail, the overall feel of the play would have been elevated and the impact of its performance that much greater.
Finally, though, Fink’s decision to draw influence from pantomime, putting his cast in painted, decorated masks and having them act out God’s descriptions of animals and nature as he speaks, is one of the most interesting and engaging parts of the show, managing to be both haunting and charming.
The Book of Job is an ambitious and adventurous play, which I can see becoming great in future iterations given more time (and maybe a smidge more money). It might not quite tackle the questions of God’s benevolence or good judgment that lie at the text’s very core – and perhaps I’m asking too much there – but it sure gives the text itself a fantastic showing.