Following on from the success of Manchester Passion on Good Friday 2006, BBC Three broadcast Liverpool Nativity live at 8 o’clock tonight. Mostly indigenous actors performing and musicians singing music from the Liverpool area to narrate a modern day version of the Christmas story.
I explained the background to the story in an earlier post, but a quick recap for the uninitiated:
... expect to find Geoffrey Hughes playing the Angel Gabriel narrating the events, and Cathy Tyson cast as Herodia, a paranoid government minister “desperate to cling to power, orders a crackdown on immigration” directing events as they unfold live in Liverpool city centre.
Of course, any nativity would be lost without Mary and Joseph (Jodie McNee and Kenny Thompson). Joseph is an asylum seeker, instructed to report to the nearest passport office, whilst Mary “discovers she is pregnant and must fight to protect both Joseph and her unborn child”.
At the beginning, narrator Gabriel (Geoffrey Hughes) made constant references back to the “original” nativity to explain the fairly obvious parallels that were being drawn in the modern (though still quite original) Liverpool nativity. Not something that happens when one of Shakespeare’s works gets updated. But probably due to the feeling that understanding of basic biblical stories is waning. (Not to mention the recent Daily Telegraph rants about school nativities etc).
Fun to see the wandering minstrels following the main characters around Liverpool with their guitars, violins and accordions - like the disciple’s band Manchester Passion. Maybe as European Capital of Culture this is what Liverpool will be like for all of 2008! Buskers unite!
As well as music and song, there were some lovely moments of humour.
[Worried Mary racing away from Joseph to clear her head after hearing that she would be pregnant when her mobile rings.]
[Mary:] Don’t tell me it’s twins?
The comparisons with Manchester are inevitable, and I can’t stop myself thinking back to the moving power of the 2006 production. Who’d have thought that the Beatles, sons of Liverpool, would end up lyrically weak when compared to Mancunian Oasis! Though Lady Madonna was a fitting accompaniment for the Magi (three Kings) to present their gifts to the baby (sleeping in shopping trolley for a crib).
With betrayal, death and resurrection, the Manchester Passion was always going to be a stronger story. But there was a moment at the end of the Liverpool Nativity, as Mary, Joseph and their baby leave the stage to “do one” (run away), the narrator Gabriel implored the crowd to
“Open up and let them get among you. And when they’re among you, swathe them, bring them into your community, swathe them with your humanity, with your love.”
It’s quite one thing for members of a crowd – any crowd - to turn up and be associated with a cause - in this case the plight of Mary and Joseph - but quite another to take the step from mental/vocal support to actual physical involvement. To put their lives and homes and safety where their hearts are. Very Jesus!
If your BBC Three reception this evening was as bad as mine, you’ll be able to catch it again when it’s repeated later tonight at 11pm on BBC Three and then next Sunday (23 December) on BBC One at 11pm (in Northern Ireland - 10.45pm in rest of UK).
Update: Unofficial overnight viewing figures should that the TV audience peaked at around 710,000 for the 8pm showing on BBC Three, and was also shown live in Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Poland and the Czech Republic.