It's always hard to know exactly who productions such as this are intended to please. Is fans of the music? Is it professing Christians? Or perhaps those who generally avoid church, but still consider there to be something significant about Jesus? Or is it simply aimed at those seeking to celebrate their city's culture?
This, somewhat inevitably, often results in the kind of production which ends up pleasing no-one. It's interesting, then, to find that many people, including those from the groups mentioned above, have been pleased by what they witnessed. Those who attended the event in person had a great night out, the more progressive church groups seem pleased by the publicity and the BBC must be pleased with the ratings for the event's live transmission.Perhaps if it had been more poorly received, I would have found myself defending it against the naysayers. After all, I do appreciate the risks that the Liverpool Nativity took, and the way it sought to bring this part of the Christian story to a wider audience in fresh and original ways. Furthermore, it avoided twee piety and the temptation to revise the key points of the story. But, perhaps because of all the positive buzz it has received, I feel duty bound to point out some of the production's weakness.
Perhaps the largest of these was the way the first part of the programme sought to ram down a pro-immigration theme down its audience's throats. Don't get me wrong, I am firmly pro-immigration, indeed I'm genuinely pretty horrified by the rhetoric that screams through newspaper headlines on a regular basis. At the same time though, the programme's treatment of the issue was heavy-handed. It was forced, preachy and, worst of all, it talked down to its audience, as if simply saying "of course here in Liverpool we all love all the immigrants really" would boot bigotry and hatred out of the city for good. Whilst it's great to see a positive take on immigration emanating from the media for once, it felt far too like a sermon.Perhaps the biggest disappointment, however, was the weakness of the music. This was where the production should have been strongest, yet it failed in numerous areas. At least one of the leading characters, Herodia (Cathy Tyson), repeatedly failed to hit her notes. Likewise compère / the angel Gabriel (Geoffrey Hughes) seemed to be unaware that his mike was switched on, so that his accompaniment of the crowd would cut out intermittently as he just stopped singing. And it wasn't just the vocals that were a bit off, the musical accompaniment lacked inspiration, with the majority of songs being accompanied by a single acoustic guitar and very little else.
The other strange thing about the music was the selection of songs. No arguments with how they related with the nativity story. It was inevitably going to have to be a bit tenuous, and, given that, the songs seemed to relate pretty well. The problem, however, was that the selection of songs didn't really do justice to the range of acts who have come out of Merseyside in the last 40-50 years. Obviously there were always going to be a few songs by The Beatles, but in the end, 11 out of the 22 songs I counted were by at least one of John, Paul George and Ringo. As a result, there was nothing by Space, Frankie Goes Hollywood, Gerry & the Pacemakers, The Lightning Seeds, The Farm, The Boo Radley's or even the aptly named The Christians, despite there being several songs which would have been no more tenuous than the ones which made the final cut ("The Power of Love", "Ferry Cross the Mersey", "Pure and Simple", "Altogether Now" just from the top of my head!). As a result, The Liverpool Nativity paled by comparison with the Manchester PassionFinally, whilst the logistical challenges of staging such a large and complex event must have been enormous the whole thing was just a bit too much like a school panto. Tyson's acting as Herodia was way over the top; Mary and Joseph lacked any chemistry; and the renown Scouse wit worked only very rarely.
There was, as I said above, much to commend the production for. Singing aside, Hughes generally did a good job of compèreing, the crowd sung along with the kind of gusto usually reserved for the Kop on a Saturday afternoon, the scenarios and costumes were well put together, and the programme has done a great job of stimulating the public's attention. Too bad the finished product didn't do justice to such a good idea.Below is (what I hope is a complete list of songs for the production. Please contact me with any corrections.
Across the Universe - The Beatles
Love is a Wonderful Colour - The Icicle Works
Reward (All wrapped up) - The Teardrop Explodes
The Zutons - You Will, You Won't
My Sweet Lord - George Harrison
Seven Minutes to Midnight - Wah! Heat
There She Goes - The La's
Liverpool Girl - Ian McNabb
The Back Of Love - Echo And The Bunnymen
Instant Karma - John Lennon
Bouncing Babies - The Teardrop Explodes
Comedy - Shack
Get Back - The Beatles
All You Need is Love - The Beatles
Imagine - John Lennon
Guiding Star - Cast
All Things Must Pass - George Harrison
You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) - Dead or Alive
Let it Be - The Beatles
Here Comes the Sun - The Beatles
Lady Madonna - The Beatles
Beautiful Boy - John Lennon
All You Need is Love - The Beatles
Labels: Liverpool Nativity