Peaches Christ Superstar review – all killer, no filler in rock-opera homage

Brighton festival
Peaches extracts every ounce of pathos and comedy from the 1970 Andrew Lloyd Webber musical

• Peaches on gender, Jesus and Andrew Lloyd Webber – interview

Who would have guessed that the author of songs such as Stuff Me Up and Tent in Your Pants was an Andrew Lloyd Webber fan? And not only that, but the sort of fangirl who knows all the words? Long before Toronto's Merrill Nisker transformed into the sexually transgressive electro artist Peaches, she was enraptured by Jesus Christ Superstar, the 1970 rock opera composed by Webber and Tim Rice. Eventually transforming her teenage obsession into a one-woman show – after getting permission from an understandably wary Webber – she's performed it sporadically since 2010. It's quite a spectacle.

Playing all the roles herself, from the frankly weedy Mary Magdalene to a camper-than-Eurovision King Herod, she strips the show of all filler. What remains is indubitably killer; without the splashy musical numbers, the relationship drama at the heart of the show takes precedence. Peaches gets into the guts of the songs, extracting with utter sincerity every ounce of pathos and comedy. (Her voice is far stronger than on her records.)

Wearing a white leotard for the first act and a Lady Gaga-esque padded gold coat for the second, she acts out all nine main characters, adopting their voices and mannerisms. She's so committed to doing them justice that sometimes the audience laughs when it shouldn't – tittering as she switches from Mary Magdalene's besotted whimper to Judas's baritone during Everything's Alright. At these moments, Peaches is even more confrontational than she is as a vibrator-wielding pop star and, for some, the intensity is unsettling.

There are no props; until the final scene, she and pianist Mathias Halvorsen are the only people onstage. For the crucifixion finale, she's joined by two dozen actors who'd been sitting in the audience, awaiting their moment to dance around her as she stands on a podium with arms lashed to an imaginary cross. (Reportedly, she originally used a "crucifix in phallus form", but it's hard to imagine it rivalling the impact created by her standing stoically in front of no cross at all.)

There's a glimmer of the everyday Peaches in the ragtime-style King Herod's Song: reaching the line "change my water into wine," she can't resist pointing at her crotch and doing the splits for good measure. Moments later, she encourages the audience to scream "Crucify him!" as she's dragged off to her doom. What a woman. What a show.

Contributor

Caroline Sullivan

The GuardianTramp

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