Review: The Gospel According to Mark (Soulpepper)

Soulpepper theatre in Toronto offers up a dramatic and intimate reading of a biblical tale


I was a little nervous entering the Young Centre to see The Gospel According to Mark. While I had a high-church upbringing (two of my grandparents were Church of England ministers) it just never took, and it’s been years since I’ve been inside a church, weddings and funerals excepted.

But the marketing promised a “fresh, transcendent and thrillingly immediate” take on the story; Kenneth Welsh is as close to a rockstar as one gets in Canadian live theatre; and even Richard Dawkins thinks the King James Bible is a beautiful work of literature on its own merits, one of the most poetic and significant texts produced in the west. Surely it’s worth a shot?

Coming away from this production, my feeling is that The Gospel According to Mark is exactly what it says on the tin: a dramatic reading of the full text by one of Canada’s best actors. It runs about 90 minutes, and plays in the intimate Tank House Theatre.

If that sounds like a good time to you — if you’d like to discover, or rediscover, a biblical text through this format — then you’ll have a marvelous time. Welsh carefully shepherds his audience around some of the rougher edges and even drags a few solid laughs and harrumphs out of his audience: you really couldn’t hope for a better guide.

But coming at this show as a skeptic, I was left cold. Instead of finding new depths or a new appreciation, I mostly just felt like I’d sat through a church service which didn’t bother with the conventional singalongs or wine-tasting. In particular, despite Welsh’s peculiar gifts as a performer, the text is so higgledy-piggledy and monotonous — one anecdote flows into the next with scarcely anything to distinguish them but an occasional funny voice — that I kept finding I’d tuned out the language entirely.

I did come away with a strong sense of the significance of Mark to western intellectual culture. It’s hard to miss the expressions which, 2000 years later, remain as vital as ever: “den of thieves”, “the first shall be last”, Salome’s dancing, and — of course — the Judas kiss.

And I don’t mean to diminish the connection some audience members clearly had with this performance: a great number oohed and aahed and stuck around for the one-off postshow talkback. But I can’t say I was among them, nor was I alone in ducking out.


  • The Gospel According to Mark plays at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (Distillery District, near King and Parliament) through March 29th, 2015.
  • Tickets are $30; $20 with student ID.
  • Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-866-8666) or from the box office at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts. Online sales end 90 minutes prior to showtime.
  • Although this show is suitable for all ages, young children may not find the subject matter to be of interest.

Photograph of Kenneth Welsh by Nathan Kelly.