Cavern Club, 22 Allen St, Te Aro, Wellington

09/03/2021 - 10/03/2021

NZ Fringe Festival 2021

Production Details

Jason Henderson

Winged Lion. Patron Saint of Venice.
But before he was hallowed, he was simply ‘Mark’ – author of the earliest account of Jesus Christ.

Undressed of tradition and veneration, experience Mark’s fast-paced narrative as his first-century audience did – out loud (and perhaps even with a drink in your hand from the bar).

A literary treasure from antiquity, Mark’s story is action-packed. Often surprising, sometimes shocking, yet as fresh and immediate as ever.

The Book of Mark, translated from Greek, performed in contemporary English by Jason Henderson.  95-minute duration includes 10-minute interval.

Venue is a licenced bar but under-18’s can be admitted when accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Preview performance, Tuesday 2 March – all tickets $10.

Cavern Club, 22 Allen Street, Te Aro
9 & 10 March 2021
General Admission $15.00
Concession $10.00
Fringe Addict $10.00
BOOK through Fringe

Theatre , Spoken word , Solo ,

1 hr 35 min, incl. interval

Little connection

Review by John Smythe 11th Mar 2021

I’m casting about for a parable that might encapsulate my response to this show. Is there one about a marathon runner who sets himself a formidable task then wonders why people in the streets he pounds at a steady pace don’t get much joy out of observing every step he takes? Or the orator who thinks he has found the ideal pitch, pace and volume for his speech so sticks to just that for most of two hours and wonders why his listeners’ eyes glaze over?

In his welcoming printed programme, Jason Henderson concludes, “Finally – tonight I read and recite Mark’s ancient text un-costumed, and unamplified – in this small space the rejection of amplification is an effort to remove one more barrier between you and this thrilling story.”  

A colleague I meet on arrival tells me he was attracted by the poster – and moustachioed Henderson does enter with a lion’s head. But having explained Mark the Patron Saint of Venice was depicted as a winged lion, he sets the fancy dress aside and proceeds unadorned.  

Henderson has chosen the most recent (2011) update of the New International Version of The Book of Mark, first written in Greek circa 50 AD and best known to English-speaking Christians from the King James Bible (aka the Authorised Version) of 1611. While purists may miss the well-known and oft-quoted ancient locutions, this version spells out Mark’s account of the adult Jesus Christ in plain English – very plain, some might say. And the underground Cavern Club is indeed an ideal intimate venue for some cosy storytelling.  

But Henderson stands aloof from his audience, gazing into the distance above and beyond us, and likewise over-projecting his voice into the void. Sure, his voice is clear and well-articulated but it lacks warmth, modulation and connection. Only at the very end, after two hours (including an interval), when reciting the news of The Resurrection, does his face light up. Yet even then, he makes no eye-contact with us.

I can’t help but think that if Jesus Christ, the loved-by many and hated-by some ‘Messiah’, had addressed his followers this way, he would not have succeeded in getting his message across, let alone leading a spiritual revolution.

As a text The Book of Mark is quite mundane – this happened, then He did this, then that happened and He did that – so the drama and excitement has to be mined from the storyteller’s understanding, and ability to evoke, what is astonishing about the progression of events. It’s not that the storyteller needs to be charismatic – just able to paint pictures in our imaginations and tune us into human experience.

Given most people hear this story told by a preacher out to win souls, this relatively disengaged recital does allow us to assess what happens with dispassionate objectivity. I find myself wondering, for example, if Jesus was cleverly exploiting human nature when he told people not to tell anyone else about the miracle he had just performed. Of course they did tell, people flocked and his popularity grew – just as he’d planned? I also think I detect a change in personality that I recognise in more recent spiritual leaders who lose perspective when cocooned for too long in the adulation of their followers.

Mark’s contention that Jesus foretold his death and resurrection is interesting too. Did this happen or was Mark embellishing the story after the fact, to make it even more mystical? Many cultures use this ploy. As for the male-centric elements of the story, notwithstanding the times ‘man’ means ‘mankind’, it’s hard not to wonder how instrumental such stories are in sustaining the Patriarchy.

Anyone wanting to consider what may have been historically true from what became mythologised – the voice of God booming down from Heaven; the Miracles; the Resurrection – will find plenty to ponder as the unrelenting voice continues.

Then there is the question of what humans being are susceptible to; what they are willing to believe … When I look about the Cavern Club I see no sign of rising Revivalist ecstasy or even joy at the ‘Good News’. Some may be mesmerised by the story – or is it just the steady delivery that has made them glaze over? I do I see some surreptitious glances at watches and – am I projecting? – relief when it is over.

Henderson stands statue-like when it is finished, still staring into the void above and beyond us, until someone starts the applause. Even then there is little connection and I’m left wondering exactly where he feels he has stood in relation to the story and us. This too is a mystery.


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