It is perhaps impossible not to have heard of the musical, The Book of Mormon. Unless you’ve been locked away from the world for the past two years. Well, pandemic aside, this show almost needs no introduction.
For those of you who would like one, let me tell you about The Book of Mormon, currently on tour in Edinburgh. First of all, this is not a show for someone who has trouble swearing or is easily offended. The show’s writers, Trey Parker and Matt Stone were responsible for South Park. I grew up watching this particular TV show, laughing at the garish, bawdy way they see the world, and poking fun at the many terrible things humans do. In this reserve, The Book of Mormon is no different.
The story goes: two young Mormons, Elder Price (Robert Colvin – what a voice) and Elder Cunningham (Conner Peirson) have just completed their training to become Mormon missionaries. It is a practice for young Mormon men who are deemed worthy to go out into the world and preach.
Brother Price is an honest young man. The best in its class. Admired by all. He wants to be sent to Orlando for his mission and he has prayed a lot for that. Instead, the prayers of Brother Cunningham, a short, messy, habitual liar, are answered. He prayed that they would be sent somewhere together and that is exactly what they got. Not in Orlando, however, but in Uganda.
Upon arrival, they have their bags stolen by the local warlord and meet the natives who tell them that life here is pretty terrible. It is a country plagued by small wars, AIDS and female genital mutilation. But in Uganda there is a saying, “Hasa Diga Eebowei”. No, that doesn’t mean no worries for the rest of your life, as Brother Cunningham asks. It means no such thing, says the town elder (played by Ewen Cummins with expert comedic timing). The man points his middle finger to the sky and clearly states that it translates to “F*** you, God.”
Things don’t look any better for our two young men when they meet the rest of the Mormon missionaries in the village. Nothing is going well for any of them in this part of the world. But that’s okay. Another of their own, Brother McKinley (Jordan Lee Davies) explains that Mormons have a special power to “quench it”. By this they mean taking any doubts, worries or bad feelings and putting them out like a light. Brother McKinley makes great use of it himself to hide his own closed homosexual feelings. The flair with which Jordan Lee Davies plays his character steals the show on several occasions.
Things look bleak for everyone on stage. How will they save the village from the warlord? How will Mormon missionaries survive inspection by the mission president?
Elder Price goes his own way to make things right, but it’s Elder Cunningham who comes into his own, trying to convert the townspeople with his own particular brand of Mormonism as he sings “Making it Up Again.” Conner Peirson has a wonderful singing voice and exudes physical comedy from every pore.
The main theme of this show is about community and there’s a bit of how religion can bring you together in weird and wonderful ways. Some might think there is too much controversy here, but it seems to me that the authors are making fun not of one group but of all groups and all things in equal measure.
One wonders why a people should care about a troop of white saviors who want to present God to them? Especially when they have bigger fish to fry and tougher lives than American visitors could have imagined. And what happens when they are promised paradise, a place and a way out of their situation? Reality hits as they are told it was only ever meant to be in their hearts and minds. Absolutely no one is going to take them to the safer beautiful city of “Sal Tlay Ka Siti”, sung by the immensely talented Aviva Tulley, whose voice rang out and took my breath away.
Overall, the music is on point, with great tunes and hilarious lyrics. My only small wish would be for some microphones to be a little louder so I could catch all the witticisms. I really didn’t want to miss a little part.
There are no duff moments in this show. Every song is well written and delivered brilliantly by the incredible cast. The acting was funny and the jokes, while outrageous and offensive to equal opportunity, were fabulous. The room was abuzz with delight and the standing ovation at the end was well deserved. Go see him. You better not end up with a “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream”. No thanks.
The Book of Mormon is at the Edinburgh Playhouse until October 9
Photo credit: Edinburgh Theater