Monday, December 17, 2007

Birthday special

The Liverpool Nativity, then: the greatest story ever mistold?

BBC Three's retelling of the birth of Jesus last night (and for the next seven days on iPlayer) was a bit of a botch. Of course, there's a built-in problem with a nativity story, in that you know how its going to end, but you'd have thought the intertwining of Great Scouse Pop moments would have at least offered something fresh for the tale.

Trouble was - like the host city - the Liverpool Nativity got too fixated on the Beatles. The idea was to set the scene for the Capital of Culture year, and on this evidence, Merseysiders can expect twelve months of not thinking much further than 'what would John Lennon do now'? So the hackneyed end is a singalong to All You Need Is Love, rather than the slightly more fitting Power Of Love, for example, although it was interesting to see Get Back given to the racists, what with the unfortunate alternative version of the song.

There were some non-Beatles track allowed in, some working (Wah Heat's Seven Minutes To Midnight and the Bunnymen's Breaking The Back of Love), most feeling just badly wedged in. There She Goes doesn't have to be a song about heroin, but I'm not convinced it can be a song about how it feels when your virgin girlfriend tells you she's been knocked up by God. And Bouncing Babies and You Spin Me Right Round Like A Record for the slaughter of the innocents felt ill-judged.

The plot - or at least the updating of it - didn't make any sense. The drama was set in a 'fictional state', which was fair enough, but then how could it be that Joseph was coming to register as an asylum seeker in Liverpool? And why did Cathy Tyson - the "minister of the interior" of the fictional state - tell the Magi she was "in town for Capital of Culture year"? You don't get the culture secretary of the actual nation turning up to live in Liverpool for twelve months, much less the minister of the interior of a different state.

Even more confusingly, despite having been told that Mary was a "Liverpool girl", she and Joseph were wandering the streets of the city because they couldn't afford a hotel room. Why not go to your house, then?

And how come Cathy Tyson's Herodia was slaughtering innocents before Mary's waters had broken? (Presumably because the three wise men - or rather, Mick from Brookside, Michael from Brookside, and the bloke who was Jaah-whey in Bread when Peter Howitt had quit - turned up too early.)

Tyson, surprisingly, was terrible - playing her part like a stage performance, and a Saturday Pantomime Matinee at that. To pull off the idea of a psychopath at the Home Office - sorry, Ministry of the Interior - called for understatement rather than gurning and spinning eyes.

Equally surprising was Jennifer Ellison wasn't all that bad - perhaps because her role as Guiding Star angel was somewhat brief.

It wasn't a bad try, all told, but the ending - the crowd parting to allow Mary and Joseph to hide - fell a little short of triumphant; Hughes' "I don't have to ask in this town" a little too self-congratulatory for an ending about a character who was meant to live humbly.

[Similar, but different: The Manchester Passion]