The Liverpool Nativity, BBC3
Did we like it?
Despite the many flaws, this production should be lauded rather than lambasted because of its courageousness to dabble with the static, stagnant format of conventional TV; and in doing so it justifies BBC3’s existence as a trialling ground for new programmes.
What was good about it?
• The lead actors Jodie McNee as Mary and Kenny Thompson as Joseph, with the narrative transposed from the Middle-East to a pseudo-fascistic Liverpool of the present day/ future (we were never quite sure).
• Notwithstanding some dreadful dialogue and dodgy locations (the ferry across the Mersey for example), both emerged with great credit for instilling their performances with passion and verve that transported you away from the ropey backdrops and limp storyline, and so you were simply drawn into their flight from the camp clutches of ‘Herodia’ (Cathy Tyson), a hybrid of Adolf Hitler and Julian Clary.
• The format of centring the action with a live audience while the narrative unfolds around the rest of the city is, perhaps because of the flagellatingly formulaic nature of almost all TV, as thrilling as an innovation of colour TV because even though what you may be watching might be distinctly underwhelming (as Liverpool Nativity sometimes was), there is an intoxicating element of excitement in observing it.
• Despite Cathy Tyson’s strained vocals, her version of Reward captured some of the supercilious ardour of Teardrop Explodes.
• The most unexpected, and welcome, song was Icicle Works’ lost classic Love Is A Wonderful Colour.
• Geoffrey Hughes (Onslow in Keeping Up Appearances) was the host/Angel Gabriel who kept the story ticking along. At times, he was infuriatingly annoying, but gradually we got used to him in the same way as you become accustomed to your granddad reeking of tobacco.
• One of the Magi was played by the bloke who was Mick in Brookside, but as he didn’t have cause to pull an expression of volcanic rage we hardly recognised him.
• And one of the once ubiquitous McGann brothers played another of the Magi (Joe, we think).
What was bad about it?
• Unlike the Manchester Passion, the cloven weakness of the Liverpool Nativity was the paucity of musical heritage (and even Manchester was abased by the gutless bombast of M People). Aside from the highlights mentioned above, each time the cast cleared their throats to sing you thought, “Oh no, here comes another bloody Beatles/ John Lennon/ George Harrison number.” And it was only a small mercy that we weren’t subjected to McCartney’s Mull of Kintyre, We All Stand Together or Dance Tonight.
• Of those others we could identify, The Zutons song was as uninspired as the original, while the La’s There She Goes is every bit as much a grating novelty one hit wonder as Agadoo (although Black Lace also had Superman).
• Some appalling dialogue: “Did you know the origin of the name magi was magician? And tonight they’re going to be magic!” While Mary and Joseph exchanged, “I love you, Joseph!” “I would do anything for you, Mary!”
• Geoffrey Hughes’ incessant references to how great Liverpool was, which had all the frantic desperation of a sailor marooned in shark-infested sea believing that he won’t attract the attention of Great Whites if he doesn’t tread water as vigorously. “We’ve got lots of lovely girls here in Liverpool! Come on give us a wave, girls!”
• While Gabriel’s dialogue sometimes oscillated unevenly between Biblical scripture, mechanical instruction manual speak and a night’s clubbing in Cream, sometimes in the space of one sentence: “I know it’s a massive headtrip [for Joseph], what with the visa application and everything.”
• The version of You Spin Me Round (Like A Record) was performed by Herodia and her stormtroopers with all the conservative meekness as if Neil and Christine Hamilton were covering it.