Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Why aren't there more good plays about Jesus?

Today's Guardian has an interesting article by a playwright who wants to know why there are so few good plays about Jesus:

The greatest story never told
A virgin birth, great parts for everyone and a happy ending ... so why aren't there more good plays about Jesus? Mark Ravenhill reports
. . . .Given that most of our leading playwrights, directors and actors have at some point appeared in a Nativity play during their formative years, it's surprising more of them haven't been drawn to tell the story of the Nativity, or other aspects of the life of Christ, in their adult work . . .

. . . . The absence of the story of Christ from the stage is not a new phenomenon. In medieval England we had the Mystery Plays, most famously in York and Coventry - epic Biblical cycles performed by amateurs on wagons passing through the city. But with the dissolution of the monasteries and the split from Rome, stagings of Biblical events became heretical. It wasn't until the 20th century that these plays were restaged, first by amateur groups, and then in a celebrated production by Bill Bryden at the National Theatre. The success of Bryden's production was in part due to his setting of the plays in a Northern working-class culture, just as it was under attack from the Thatcher government.
It's a good article, though some alarm bells begin ringing here:
Dennis Potter called his play about the crucifixion, written for television and later staged by the RSC with Joseph Fiennes as Christ, "Son of Man" - instantly loading it by denying Jesus his semi-divinity.
Semi-divinity? Could this be another example of that occasional media heresy that Jesus was a half-man, half-god? Apparently it is:
Perhaps the representation of Jesus on stage is always going to be problematic. If you are a believer, he is the son of God and therefore half human and half divine. How does an actor represent the divine?
That aside, though, well worth a read.

1 comment:

Matt Page said...

FWIW I don't think Son of Man denies Jesus divinity (or "semi-divinity") at all. At least not the version filmed for television. ALthough I have the script for the play, and it is different in places, it's the TV play version I'm most familiar with.

Whilst Son of Man unashamedly focuses on Jesus's human attributes, and doesn't have a resurrection sequence I can't think of anywhere his divine status is denied. In fact the opening "is it me?" sequence could be read as affirming it.