“When I hear people say politics and religion don't mix, I wonder what Bible they are reading.”
(Archbishop Desmond Tutu)
Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Marlene's contemporary nativity: a salutary tale for Christmas.
Now, take my friend Marlene: she's
a very artistic type.You probably know
the sort - dangly Trade Craft earrings, pencils and paint brushes pushed into
her hair geisha - style: half-moon glasses precariously perched an the end of
her nose and a pair of Doc Martens - one red and one green. ('I've another pair
like this you know.')
She's a leading light in regional
amateur dramatics with a name for her radical re-workings.Her trans-gender 'Phantom of the Opera' is
still talked about in hushed
tones…… in Dewsbury.Marlene is also a
bit of a committee junkie, an inveterate organiser and with areputation for not tolerating fools: (i.e. most other people she
knows).So I wasn't particularly
surprised when she agreed to the Church Councils' request to stage last year's
Nativity, although some concern was expressed: Marlene was the sort of person
who had causes. We feared her analysis of Santa’s carbon footprint and her
concern that the elves should have a living wage.
The committee gathered in her
large kitchen, all shaker style furniture and IKEA fittings - very Chappell
Allerton. Oh, and she had an agenda. “To bring this story alive it has to be
brought into the present.We must make
it relevant!” And so she set about her task with relish - carrying the rest of
us, I have to say, rather in the slipstream of her enthusiasm.
Marlene used her
contacts at the University to cast the Wise Men who turned out to be Justin,
Trevor ... and Brenda … and you probably remember that Marlene and Brenda have
not been on civil terms since the unfortunate incident at the Turkish bath.
Well it won't matter' said
Marlene, all hurt pride and a large gin.“No one will notice the difference: all they'll see is three moustaches
– and that’s before the costumes are on.
Her neighbour's daughter,
Sigourney, was cast as Mary, notwithstanding the fact that at 14, she was
pushing the boundaries of virginity somewhat.
“But she's ethnic.Don't you see she's perfect for the part: so
21st century marginalized.” and that was that. Marlene brooked no
she said, gesturing to an open copy of a book by Walter Bruggerman on the
vicar’s desk, “If you knew your Hebrew you’d know that it doesn’t actually say
thinks she’s a theologian now does she?” muttered Brenda to Justin.
of the casting fell into place: the localImam graciously declined the role of
the Angel Gabriel."Well you can
take multiculturalism to the point of political correctness and then where
would we all be?Answer me that?"
observed Brenda.Terry, the local
postman took his place in a stunning piece of symbolism that no one got, even
when Marlene, to considerable consternation insisted that he performed in his
she said, as she explained with elaborate patience for the third time the
symbolism of postman as messenger of God.
“Actually, Marlene, point of order.The Philistines were a very cultured people”
“Actually, Trevor, any more points of order
and you’ll be the back end of the donkey."
Sigourney's boyfriend Cameron was drafted in as the
innkeeper.(Fortunately the ASBO he had
been given for streaking through the synagogue as a bet had just lapsed.) A
night-club doorman by trade he had little difficulty with the lines- “You can't
come in here, we're full' although he did tend to keep fooling around at
rehearsals and ad-libbing: 'You can't come in mate, but you can, love, we're
letting in girls for half price”.
Now Brenda likes to think of herself as worldly-wise, but she
flummoxed us all with her references to Cameron’s musical animal
impersonations. Eventually she explained: “Cameron’s hung like a stallion,
Sigourney told me.So, what does that
sound like then?How do you sing like a
Joseph was to be played by Len, the church caretaker.
"But he's about 1000 years old Marlene."
"Joseph was older than Mary you know.Anyway, it says a lot about the exploitation
of women in a patriarchal society."
Rehearsals came and went.
"Marlene, I'm sorry to interrupt but I'm having trouble
with my character in this scene. What's my motivation here?"
"Piss off Trevor.You’re
a palm tree. Any more of that luvvy-crap and you’ll be the back end of the
often have I told you?Don't smoke during
the birth scene - the baby Jesus is inflammable."
if I hear another religious person say: 'and Wise Men seek him still . . . .' I
may run screaming from the building"
"Brenda, they're not religious, they're Church of
"Sigourney, Darling, no more piercings please - at least
not before Christmas.I'm sorry Cameron
... you've had what pierced?I see ....
well, we shan't need to see that on stage thank you very much"
“Point of order, Marlene, technically, its not Christmas, its
Advent, which means….”
possibly both ends of the donkey, Trevor! Terry.Drop the line about 'Special Delivery', it's not working-"
And so the evening arrived --- and Marlene was proved
right.It was a triumph- dramatic,
moving and powerful.The stable became
a bus shelter in front of an old garage, back-lit in moody tones, the manger: the boot of a jacked-up
wreck.Drug paraphernalia littered the
floor.Three local characters shared a
bottle around a brazier and stray dogs sniffed around the set.Everyone delivered their lines perfectly, and
on cue it snowed.
It's hard to believe that it was nearly a year ago now, and
here we are again getting ready for this year.It's going to be different this year though.After Marlene's triumph the church council
members met in emergency session.Words
like uncomfortable, inappropriate, trendy and travesty were bandied about.
So we're back to the traditional again- shepherds in tea
towels carrying cuddly sheep and angels with tinsel halos.The relevant and the up-to date, it seems,
have no place in the Christmas story.
And the meaning of Christmas in all this?
The Only Fools and Horses Christmas Special repeat, 8.00 pm, BBC2,
Boxing Day, of course.