A ‘Restoration’ comedy in the truest sense of the word.
The real story of this event was a worldwide sensation so I came in hope that Behold! The Monkey Jesus, a play by Joe Wiltshire Smith was just as sensational, writes Michael Holland.
It is 1930, a church in a small village in Spain where a local artist has just completed his commission for the resident nuns – a painting of the Lord Jesus Christ. The commissioning nun (Louise Beresford), however, is horrified! She felt the fresco did not have the reverence needed for the man she has given her life to. Basically, the image was a halo short of holiness. The Mother Superior agreed and offered the artist, half of the promised payment.
Elías Martínez (Roger Parkins), a painter who lectured at the local college, was so angry he refused to take such a belittling sum for the hours of dedication he had put into creating what he considered to be a reverential masterpiece.
The painting stayed on the wall and over time it began to fade and flake off. In 2012 the church cleaner, Cecilia Giménez (Mary Tillett), who had grown up with the image throughout her 81 years, and unschooled in art, thought she would revive it with a touch of paint. In fact, the voice of the Holy One actually told her to ‘give it a lick of paint’!
Someone, though, took a photo of the ‘restoration’ to post online and it soon went viral. Some art experts called it the Monkey Jesus, which is the name that stuck.
Before long the world’s press were swarming the church and village to mock poor Cecilia. And then others came to see this amateurish renovation, and they kept coming, and soon they were coming in their tens of thousands and before long the church began charging €3 to get in to look upon the fresco and that funded a gift shop where mugs and fridge magnets would be sold, and Cecilia thought she should have a share so called in lawyers to win her a portion of the merchandise profits.
But then the granddaughter of Señor Martínez came to take umbrage with Cecilia for ruining her grandfather’s work AND taking money for bringing such shame to the family name! Cecilia could only respond by saying the money she received went on funding her disabled son’s special needs, but her apologies went unaccepted.
The writer has, like Cecilia Giménez, taken artistic liberties with the actuality to create this comedy – Funnier if you know the story – but the ending was a bit botched and awkward, and could, perhaps, have ended when charges were brought for embezzlement.
But that was the only hitch in this very funny play.
Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, 410 Brockley Road, London, SE4 2DH until 8th July.
Box office: www.brockleyjack.co.uk or 0333 666 3366 (£1.80 fee for phone bookings only)
Tickets: £17, £15 conc., 14+