On The Lukewarm Critical Reception of The Book of Mormon

Photo on 25-03-2013 at 19.12 #3

I saw The Book of Mormon when it was new. Before it was new, perhaps. I saw it in previews. So a few weeks ago. I didn’t see it in America. And I didn’t see it before hundreds of thousands of other people already had. What this means is that I lied at the start of this paragraph. I’m sorry. I couldn’t help myself. Let’s start again:

I saw The Book of Mormon about two and a half weeks ago. And it is hilarious. I laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed. And normally when I do that in a play, at a musical, at work, on public transport, I get funny looks. People sneer at me and make faces implying they think I must be mad/crazy/wasted to be enjoying life so much. Which hurts. Which really hurts. And my fear, as I enjoyed the enjoyable joys of The Book of Mormon, was that I would be stared again. This time by a harsh, “normal”, West End musical crowd, rather than the crowd in the small room at the bottom of the Leicester Square theatre.

But I wasn’t stared at. My laughter (strange, shrieking hoots, deep, hyperventilating yawns, rectal-busting chokes, joyful, nasal sobs) was utterly inconspicuous amongst the gurning, cheering, hurrahing laughter of everyone else in the auditorium. Because The Book of Mormon is, first and foremost, a “satiric, comedy musical”, and it provides constant, deep, intestinal laughs throughout.

Critics are down on it because it has been so hyped, because it has won so many awards, because it has already proved so popular (certainly in terms of ticket sales) with audiences… The general critical consensus has been made and it is overwhelmingly positive. I can imagine that were I in the position where my opinion was usually valued, praised, important, if all of a sudden the public decided it could make decisions on its own, I’d feel scared, vindictive, and I’d lash out.

Yes, we don’t really have Mormons in the UK, yes, there are lots of jokes about “dark, serious” topics – but what is wrong with that? Satire is intended to provoke, to question, to raise awareness  of issues. And it does that.

Maybe it’s not big, it’s not grand, it doesn’t build to a huge, deeply emotionally rooted catharsis… but what it does do is provoke laugh after laugh after laugh. And that was what I went in hoping for, and that was what I got. For me, it was no disappointment.


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