Everybody is sat in pews, hymns are playing in the background, and a huge cross is hanging in front of us. It’s not a church service that’s about to begin, but a theatre performance. As the King James Bible celebrates its four hundredth birthday this month, tributes have been coming through in the form of documentaries, exhibitions, books, and now theatre. Creation Theatre, who previously put on a play in Blackwell’s bookshop and an island in the River Cherwell, took on the epic task of staging the Bible in Oxford’s St Barnabas church.
The Bible stories are told through the eyes of a couple that are suddenly exiled from their home. They retell the stories to answer the big questions: does God care? Why does he let bad things happen to good people? And, was it really all Eve’s fault? The stories are told thematically rather than chronologically, in turn the couple move from being frustrated to comforted by the process.
From the start of the production actors Tom Peters and Raewyn Lippert both launch across the stage with the force of David’s stone for Goliath. They climb onto tables, cling to pillars, and jump into the pulpit. Everything is snappy and smooth, moving from silly to sentimental in seconds.
Creation Theatre have aimed high: they’re covering some of the best known stories in the world, staging them in just under ninety minutes, and with only two actors. The overall tone is the Reduced Shakespeare Company meets Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Sodom and Gomorrah is brought to life by puppets, Cain and Abel’s feud is retold in the style of a spaghetti western, and Moses’ life is delivered in limericks. Lines like “I’m going below deck to find Jonah, there’s something fishy about that lad” fill the script more than the language of the King James Bible. The crucifixion, however, is genuinely moving, using harsh white lighting on the actors freezing to recreate images of Christ’s suffering.
If you don’t know the basic Bible stories, this will be difficult to follow. The majority of the audience was elderly with no diversity, something the company should do more to change. Here’s hoping for a miracle.
To see or not to see: * * *