Sunday, December 16, 2007

Liverpool Nativity: Comments

I watched The Liverpool Nativity and found it a laid back, enjoyable, refreshing hour's viewing. It was broadcast live from Liverpool on BBC3, at 8pm. The event was very similar to last year's Manchester Passion, the Biblical story adapted and set in a modern British city, set to music familiar from that city's recent heritage. Something like half of the music tonight was Beatles (Across the Universe, Lady Madonna, All You Need is Love, Here Comes the Sun) or Beatles related (My Sweet Lord, Imagine). And there were other Liverpool favourites like The LAs' "There She Goes" (I once went to see them live in concert!) and that Dead or Alive song, "Spinning Right Round". There were one or two I didn't recognise.

Several of the actors were familiar faces. Nerys Hughes (Liver Birds) appeared at the beginning as a sympathetic server at "The Grill" and Geoffrey Hughes (Twiggy in the Royle Family and a ton of other things) was Gabriel, also the ever present compere. He held the production together, addressing the massive assembled crowd of Liverpuddlians, acting as narrator and moving loosely in and out of character as Gabriel, and occasionally addressing those taking part via audible voice or TV screen. His narration was lightly Christian and broadly traditional but not overtly evangelistic, with references to what "the Bible" says, and drawing attention to the contemporary translation to Liverpool.

The narrative thread was fairly straightforward, a fairly even and traditional harmonizing of Matthew and Luke translated into a contemporary setting, often in interesting ways, but often without the necessary time to get properly developed, so that it raced along. The story was stronger in the first third of the piece, where we see Mary in a cheap diner, meeting her boyfriend Joseph, an asylum seeker, and finding out that she is pregnant by the holy spirit at the same time that Joseph finds out that he needs to register as an asylum seeker. They get the ferry across the Mersey, and work out their problems with further communications from Gabriel. All this was the strongest, most compelling part of the story, not least because we were allowed some insight into what Mary and Joseph were thinking, the music well chosen, and the performances very good.

In the next phase, the other characters dominated. A purple-suited local government official of some kind called Herodia was the cartoon villain, and her two or three songs were set pieces with dancers, one with the magi, who arrived in a Rolls Royce. The shepherds (singing "Imagine" -- did this represent their secular lifestyle ahead of their encounter with Jesus?) were homeless people who were addressed by Gabriel on their faltering radio, and who were joined by a handful of angels in silver suits, all of whom marched to the centre of Liverpool, where the stages, the crowds and Gabriel were located.

The narrative had a slightly rushed, going-through-the-motions feel as it resolved itself with the birth of Jesus, and a reprise of "All you need is love". But the whole production was beautifully constructed and choreographed, and remarkable for being a live performance. The quality of the singing was mostly excellent, all the more impressive given the way the characters were moving around the streets in what must have been a pretty cold evening, probably close to freezing temperatures. There was a large orchestra on one of the central stages, and for other parts, there was a small ensemble of guitar, accordian and violin. For the bigger pieces, the crowd were encouraged to sing along and unfortunately no one told Geoffrey Hughes not to join in; he sang along like your uncle at the wedding who wants to encourage everyone else but doesn't realize that he is singing off key and only occasionally knows the words.

Mary (Jody McNee) was brilliantly cast and was one of the best things in it; Joseph (Kenny Thompson) was also impressive.

These are first impressions after an initial viewing. I hope to get a chance to catch it again tomorrow and perhaps to extend and modify some of these thoughts.

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