Niall Anderson watches the West End transfer of The Book Of Mormon
It goes without saying that Americans on the whole have a different view of religion than Europeans, and a lot of this has to do with how the two civilisations conceive of the rights of their individual citizens. To vulgarise slightly, in Europe rights are conceived of in negative: they’re the things that nobody can legally stop you from doing. In America, the connotation is largely positive when not outright libertarian. The expression of your individual rights as a citizen is precisely what marks you out as American; a tendency that in turn reinforces the notion of America itself as the great unindividuated home of personal freedom.
There are ironies galore here, but one thing there isn’t is actual irony. The sober Baptist in his New England chapel, the snakehandler in his revivalist’s tent, the dollar-mad televangelist in his sweaty megachurch: all are equally protected by the same Bill of Rights. This is a legalistic definition of equality, to be sure, but in a nation effectively founded by lawyers it has become something close to the cultural definition too. To suggest in the public realm that some manifestations of the religious impulse are kookier than others is held to be impolite; to suggest that religion as a whole might be a crock has the ring of sedition about it. When you mock the faithful, are you not also attacking their fundamental rights as citizens?
All of which perhaps explains the especial nervousness – and the especial atmosphere of heretical glee – that greeted the first Broadway run of The Book Of Mormon in 2011. A satirical musical about America’s foremost native religion, written and co-directed by America’s foremost native satirists (South Park honchos Trey Parker and Matt Stone), the advance word was so hectically positive that you almost thought they’d found a cure for religion through the medium of dancing and low sarcasm. In a probably unconscious echo of the missionary zeal the musical elsewhere mocks, The Book Of Mormon has evangelised itself into a number of touring productions, one which turned up in London last week. Far from home in an alien culture, how would Mormon get on in the godless hinterlands of Soho and Piccadilly? Continue reading Pull The Utah One, It’s Got Bells On