Simon Callow prepares for the Man Jesus premiere

Famous for his Royal Shakespeare performances and the hit film Four Weddings and a Funeral, Simon Callow takes on the role of his life in a new one-man play which examines the character of Jesus. The world-renowned actor arrived in Belfast today to prepare for the premiere of The Man Jesus at the Lyric Theatre which opens in Easter week and runs until 20 April 2013.

Callow has been rehearsing the role at Shoreditch Town Hall in London since the end of February.

Playwright Matthew Hurt described his motivation for this thought-provoking drama:

“Since childhood I’ve been attracted to the stories of the Bible,” he said. “Whenever I go back and re-read them, I’m struck by how unexpected, almost unknowable, they are – even the familiar ones. What I hope we are able to do with The Man Jesus is take us back to the precise moment in history when he was living and experience his story as I imagine it felt and looked to the characters around him.

“This isn’t an attempt to dismiss any of the spiritual dimensions of his life. Instead of looking at the Jesus of Christianity, I want to try to grasp the man religion claimed as its own before legend, politics and sectarianism distorted – for good or bad – the image we have of him.”

Matthew added: “To be able to do this in one of the UK’s great theatres and with an actor of Simon Callow’s abilities is a great privilege.”

Director Joseph Alford said: “A one-man show with Simon Callow as Jesus of Nazareth – each element is a new experience for me in that I’ve never done a show like that, with him or about this and I’m very excited about every part of it!”

“We are rehearsing at the wonderful Shoreditch Town Hall in London before heading to Belfast to open at the Lyric Theatre in April. I have not worked at the Lyric Theatre before and have heard only great things about the new theatre. The show is still undergoing shifts and changes, but what interests me most about it is the amazing impact one person can have on the lives of the people around them, whether you see them as Messiah, son, father or just a man.”

The star of the show, Simon Callow, visited the Lyric Theatre at the end of January to launch its new season of plays. Belfast is a city that is close to his heart having studied at Queen’s University in the late ‘60s.

He said: “I can barely express my excitement at appearing on the stage of the most beautiful new theatre in Europe, at returning to the city where I studied and where I did my first acting, and at being involved in the world premiere of Matthew Hurt’s deeply moving new play about Jesus.”

At the end of this much anticipated premiere, the distinguished actor will deliver the annual Lyric Lecture on 21 April to celebrate the theatre’s second birthday.

Gilly Campbell, Drama and Dance Officer, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, commented:

“The Lyric has provided an outstanding cultural programme over the past 40 years and has continued to generate some of the most ground-breaking and innovative theatre in its new state-of-the-art home. The Arts Council enjoys a strong partnership with the Lyric Theatre and we look forward to another exciting year ahead.”

The Man Jesus runs on the Danske Bank Stage from 3 to 20 April (previews 30, 31 March & 2 April). Tickets from £15 – £24.50.