Sunday, October 2

The Book of Mormon – Edinburgh Playhouse

As Edinburgh comes down off its narcotic high of hosting the largest arts Festival in the world, and just as it starts to hunker down for the onset of Autumn and Winter, here comes a wake-up of epic proportions as ‘Mormon’ marches unashamedly into town.

One of the world’s highest grossing musicals, this multi award-winning show is not to be missed, from the creators of South Park, Avenue Q and Frozen, Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone. This is a show of high pedigree and high quality that does not disappoint and is probably one of the funniest musicals you are ever likely to see. Halfway through a UK tour the cast are drilled, the music is tight, and the laughs are guaranteed!

Stripped down this is a buddy road-trip musical, think Abbott and Costello meets the Lion King, that sees mismatched Mormons Price (Robert Colvin), the good-looking tall one, and Cunningham (Conner Peirson), the short, chubby, geeky and needy one, sent on a missionary trip to none of the happy clean places, but Uganda.  They set off full of hope, with huge but rather fixed smiles, with dreams of conversions, baptisms, validation, but are greeted instead with the reality of mud huts (with no bells!), gun-toting mercenaries who quickly relieve them of their luggage, and a dozen other life-threatening possibilities. As you might imagine this is comic gold. “Do you ever feel there’s something missing in your life? preps Cunningham, the chubby one. Wordlessly a woman turns and points at her shit covered hut. You get the picture.

But forget the comedy, this show is all about the music, from the pen of Robert Lopez (Avenue Q) you would expect much, and it is just brilliant. From the bell-pushing opening number ‘Hello’, which introduces us to our new friends the Mormons, to the boundary-pushing opening African number, once we arrive in Uganda, which includes references to Aids, baby rape, malaria, FGM and posits the perhaps totally reasonable question of why God hates them so much. Though put in slightly stronger and more sexually violent language! Apparently, this is the bit that really offends people, but for me it is an absolute highlight!

But there are many highlights, like Elder Price, the cool, tall grinning one singing a potted history of the Mormons, called ‘I Believe’, managing to include the line, “I believe that in 1978 God suddenly changed his mind about black people”. Then there is the ‘Spooky Mormon Hell Dream’, featuring some brilliantly whacky costumes and set changes and including historic ‘hell’ characters, Hitler, yes, Genghis Khan and rather brilliantly, Robert Kardashian, OJ’s lawyer, complete with offending glove – if the glove don’t fit you must acquit (only later admitting that he pumped OJs hand full of steroids to make sure it didn’t!).

The undoubted singing star of the show however has to be the beautiful and talented Aviva Tulley, as Nabulungi, poignantly singing about a new life she hopes for in Sal Tlay Ka Siti, or duetting with geeky Cunningham in Baptize Me. There is also much comic currency in the inability of Cunningham to pronounce her name correctly, variously Nutella, Neutrogena and Nicolla Sturgeon!

Some may say that this is a musical show that pokes fun at the Americanisation of religion, or that it makes fun from the poverty and desperation and ignorance of Aids-decimated Africa. It is these things. Written before #metoo, before snowflakes, Woke, BLM or Karens, this anarchic and decisively non-PC theatre-filler is probably on borrowed time. Don’t miss it!

Playing until 8th October,

Reviewer: Greg Holstead

Reviewed: 14th September 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★