With a bio that namedrops the likes of Tim Minchin and George Carlin, it’s fairly easy to go into this show with your nose upturned at the relative newbie with the ego. Luckily you’ll be slapped back down to earth by the end of the first self-deprecating song and realise you’re in for one hell of a ride.
The Gospel According to Matthew debuted in Queensland’s Short and Sweet Festival, winning Best Original Score/Song and Best Direction in 2016. This second coming tackles freedom of speech, politics and preaching. The title references the first book of the New Testament, a story of a rejected Messiah asking his disciples go out into the world to preach the gospel to all. It’s a clever idea for exploration in cabaret, translated into a meaningful and contextualised message for today.
Matthew Semple has a wonderful tone in his powerful voice and a savvy, commanding presence on this stage that doesn’t quite seem big enough for his performance. He certainly has a knack for word play and delivers his shocking punchlines so hard you’ll be winded. It seems impossible in today’s world, but somehow Semple will have you asking yourself if he’s allowed to say that.
Semple wrangled an exceptionally rowdy crowd proficiently well. It must have been incredibly off-putting to have such a chatty and fidgety audience. This wasn’t just an impolite crowd; this was phones out, full conversations happening drowning out the show kind of stuff. Nonetheless, Semple kept it together, managed to throw out some fun comebacks when suitable and took it all in his stride. He deserves better and bigger audiences than this.
Sure, there’s some polishing to be done here. Some segues could be smoother, some technical wrinkles can be ironed out, but all in all, this is clever cabaret. The Gospel According to Matthew is a piercing show, shining bright lights on touchy subjects that will have you laughing at something you may not admit to your loved ones.
The Gospel According to Matthew is full of witty words and tight melodies. Semple’s song writing is exquisite, dropping the joke right at the perfect point. This piano-playing, musical theatre graduate is onto something special, and he’s one to keep an eye on in the cabaret world.
Semple’s Victorian debut is wickedly shocking, full of all the good stuff you like from a cabaret show.
The Gospel According to Matthew is on at Melbourne’s The Butterfly Club until Sunday 19 March 2017.