Sunday, December 16, 2007

Liverpool Nativity

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.

BBC - Liverpool Nativity - Mary (Jodie McNee) and Joesph (Kenny Thompson)

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?

[Crowd laugh]

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: Looks like a couple of other people enjoyed it too.

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.


ruthEbabes said...

i forgot all about this!!! oh rage!!! in the midst of organising a Christmas party for tonight it went clean out of my head.... however it's now added to the schedule to record for next week!

Thanks for the report, i'm really looking forward to seeing it now.

Anonymous said...

Agreed Alan, Manchester was stronger, in the main because the music was. I thought they struggled at times (Imagine? for the shepherds?) But funnily enough I liked 'Here comes the sun' at the nativity.

Still, great stuff. and really imaginative.

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

Yes - hats off to Mark Davies Markham who wrote it.

From the Guardian a week or so ago ...

After discussions with the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev James Jones, the script's writer Mark Davies Markham has modernised the traditional story. Mary, lacking both the traditional blue robe and halo, wipes tables in a Seaforth cafe. Joseph is an asylum seeker commanded to go to Liverpool to renew his visa. Herod is a woman and the shepherds are both homeless and sheepless. But there will still be a star and three magi for the show.

"The traditional story is so familiar that it can just wash over you," said Markham. "I wanted it still to be familiar but to help people look at it in a different way. If they see it in terms of hope for humanity, that would be good."

You should have got him writing for The Mockingbird's Leap!

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

Just commenting to note I changed the "Open ..." quote near the end of the post to make it more accurate.

Having watched through that section again on the iPlayer stream (available for 7 days after broadcast), the dialogue goes something like


Angel Gabriel: So. You can cling onto your evil regime. Joseph - you’re going to have to do one. You’re going to have to make your escape and seek your asylum elsewhere

Joseph: But we can’t do it by ourselves, we need help.

Gabriel: We can help you! Can’t we Liverpool?

Crowd: (shouting) Yes!

Gabriel: You know I knew I didn’t have to ask in this city. You’re sound Liverpool. Right you two. On your toes before the army gets here. The crowd will look after you. Go on.

And Liverpool. Let’s have a parting of the waves. 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.

We love you Liverpool

So Mary and Joseph make their escape just like they did two thousand years ago.

You know Jesus really was a revolutionary, in a totally amazing way. Throughout his entire life his message was of love for human kind.

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

> On your recommendation

Phew - I'm glad Exodus paid off as it's a lot longer than Liverpool Nativity! I'd feel very guilty if you'd watched all the way through and not enjoyed it.

Have a great Christmas - though I know it'll be busy for you. A bit like Gabriel's instruction to Liverpool, you'll be very practical in ...

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.