The soundtrack features The Sex Pistols and Blur, Jesus has an affair and John is gay. But, sayS this 0T Chl’iSt is NOT intended to Offend.Words: Fiona Shepherd
GET THIS FOR A PITCH: THE GREATEST STORY ever told. as rendered by Scotland‘s greatest living poet. Mmm. sounds like it might have potential.
Last year. Raindog — the Robert Carlyle- founded. Glasgow-based theatre company — decided to mark the millennium by commissioning Glasgow‘s poet laureate Edwin Morgan to write a trilogy of plays based on the life of Christ. Now. having infiltrated late night small screen viewing with the Tinsel Town series. Raindog caps its most prolific year yet with All. a true biblical epic tailored to fill the Tramway's cavernous main theatre space.
Boasting a core cast of twenty Raindog regulars. led by Paul Hickey as
Jesus. and a supporting cast of 30. AI). is the
company's most ambitious production to date. The trilogy has received Lottery and Arts Council funding and required weeks of rehearsals for a company more used to devising its shows from scratch than working from a prepared text.
Morgan was clearly the man for the job. He has already written translations and adaptations of Cyrano I)e Bergerae. I)r I’austns and Phaedra for the theatre but this is his first original work to be performed. He has long been fascinated by the life of Christ. having read extensively on the subject while lecturing on Milton‘s Paradise Lost at Glasgow University. but he maintains that his interest is not merely scholarly.
‘l was brought up in a believing. Protestant. church-going family.‘ he says. ‘You don‘t entirely get rid of that. but I stopped going to church in my teens. I don‘t believe in the sense that would satisfy a real
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believer. What I have is a questioning interest in the whole thing. No one knows what Jesus was really like but I imagined that l was getting closer to him just because he was my main character and I had to get under his skin if I possibly could.
’I don't think my own beliefs really come into the play.‘ he continues. ‘I was presenting as far as I could see a character who might have had this life that I’ve drawn. It’s all quite possible and even probable but it‘s also
leaving the audience with questions. I‘m not trying to force any particular narrow belief on them.‘
The publicity campaign takes a similar ‘no answers. only questions’ tack with a series of posters emblazoned with different character traits — ‘anarchist’. ‘lover‘. etc — beneath l-lickey"s face. A generation of kids grew up with an image of Jesus bearing the piercing blue eyes and gaunt fair-skinned features of Robert Powell in Jesus (IfNazm‘eI/I; will the next generation picture Jesus as the star of TV‘s Tinsel 'Iim‘n'.’
However. Morgan is not trying to present some funky update of the gospels. Jesus Christ .S'nperstar and (I'm/spell did that 30 years ago and have become kitsch period pieces. The music may live on but. in much the same way as ABBA. it does so as nostalgia.
Instead. Morgan has written a historical play — part prose. part poetry — and it is up to Raindog to provide the modern flourishes. In rehearsal. the incidental use of tracks by The Sex Pistols and Blur blasted out at battle volume brilliantly set the mood for the scenes which followed but any modern inferences in the text itself (political upheaval. class war. etc) only demonstrate that the big issues have been around as long as mankind.
In order to provide as full at life of Christ and as dramatic a script as possible. Morgan used his knowledge of the times and society to fill in the blanks left by the biblical source material. ‘Thc Bible is not a
biography of Jesus.‘ he says.
‘There’s not much plot. Large parts of his life are not discussed at all. so I had to fill out the meagre life in the Bible by inventing new characters. new incidents and new scenes. But the backbone of the story is there all the way.‘
The gospels contain very little information on Christ's childhood and adolescence. so in the first part of the trilogy. which Morgan dubs The liarly Years. he has taken particular license. He anticipates controversy. although it was never his intention to court it.
'lt might be contentious in the sense that if you deal with that subject at all you’re almost bound to offend somebody.‘ he observes asttltely. ‘There are people who don't want the story to be retold v~ it’s there. it‘s in the Bible already and that‘s all you need. I hope that it won‘t be taken as an attack on Christianity. lt‘s not meant to be that at all. I dare say that there will be one or two fundamentalists that don't want