The Book Of Mormon, Trey Parker and Matt Stone's broadway behemoth, arrives in London under the stormcloud of controvery which follows the South Park creators wherever they go. The show's depiction of a poverty-striken Ugandan village being saved by two white missionaries has drawn the wrath of its left-leaning attendees, while conservative voices have risen in characteristic fury to denounce the mocking of white religious righteousness.
As ever, the reality falls somewhere in between the two extremes. Parker and Stone have long relished holding organised religion to account for its hypocrises, but shown a more subtle appreciation for the importance of faith as a concept, even if the material it is attached to is sometimes questionable. This humanist nuance is also what salvages Mormon's depiction of the native Ugandans from accusations of racism. Many of them speak in ridiculous voices, have unsanitary views on the appropriate course of action regarding female genitalia (even doing an uncanny facial imitation in the show's most inspired visual gag) and show a willingness to embrace ridiculous ideology in the vain hope of escaping the terror and famine of their everyday lives. What makes it work is how these stereotypical traits are used as a smokescreen for an underlying cynicism and self-awareness which the two white leads, who arrive on the scene with naïve assumptions about their moral and spiritual superiority, utterly lack in their total detachment from reality.
Jokes about an AIDS-afflicted villager having maggots in his scrotum undermine that subversive wit, and the songs, while amusing, are nowhere near as memorable or catchy as Parker and Stone's finest musical contributions to South Park, either the TV show or movie. The duo's affinity for calling upon deceased dictators for comedy value remains as one-note as ever, and the backdrops and staging often lack the ambition or vitality expected of such a production. For better or worse, it's the stage show you'd expect from the creators of SouthPark and, perhaps more pertinently, earlier movie musical Cannibal! Despite its stumbles, Book Of Mormon's ribald sense of humour and subtle notes of empathy carry it over the finishing line with winningly unfettered gusto.