Did we like it?
A triumphant and innovative spin on the Greatest Story Ever Told, and re-told, and re-told…
What was good about it?
• The entire notion behind the performance which gave a contemporary setting and songs to a legend that has been done to death, and made the whole tale original and invigorating.
• Keith Allen as the host (and Pontius Pilate). He narrated the tale as Jesus moved ever closer to his demise through the streets of Manchester while also commenting as an eight-metre cross was carried through those same streets until the two converged in Albert Square (not that one, though an old EastEnders doctor did appear as Peter) in the centre of Manchester.
• And when the time came for him to assume the role of Pilate to meet and condemn Jesus to crucifixion, Allen’s demeanour became altogether nastier.
• The principle performers were all marvellous. Darren Morfitt as Jesus brought a raw defiance to his role as the son of God, Denise Johnson as Mary managed to minimise the damage caused by some of the tripe she had to sing with her uplifting vocals and Tim Booth skilfully elicited a sympathetic edge to Judas.
• The simple acoustic songs were fantastically performed, and quite often meddled with the lyrics to give them a new meaning. Judas’ morose Heaven Knows I Miserable Now was morphed from a paean of self-pity and self-loathing into an elegy of contrition and doubt. Meanwhile, Blue Monday was cleverly reworded to become the soundtrack to the verbally duelling Jesus and Judas over the latter’s betrayal.
• Dougal the Christian punk whose sideburns could be used to bludgeon the seal bludgeoners.
• When Pilate had to ask the crowd whom should be pardoned out of Jesus and Barabbas (a cameo from Chris Bisson), on the big screen in the square the word flashed up “Barabbas”. This may have been a satirical comment on the way the media controls people’s perceptions these days, but was quite fun none-the-less even if it did resemble a scene from 1984 especially when the crowd chanted “Crucify! Crucify! Crucify!”
What was bad about it?
• Some of the music was utterly appalling. M People are only the pride of Manchester in the same way as the bubonic plague is the pride of Milan. And what made it worse was that Search For A Hero, an anthem for middle-aged folk who set their dogs on imagination the moment it encroaches upon their sterile gardens, was performed twice. A small mercy was that the excellent Denise Johnson did cut out Heather Small’s vocal histrionics which are the musical equivalent of a thousand souls screaming as they burn in the darkest chamber of hell.
• Too many of the songs seemed to be chosen simply because they were populist rather than for lyrics that could have conveyed the story better such as Wilderness (“I travelled far and wide where unknown martyrs died”) or Kinky Afro (“I had to crucify some brother today”).
• Keith Allen’s ‘singing’ in Wonderwall. While Jesus was instilling the words with a fresh disgust, Allen as Pilate was grappling with each word emanating from his vocal chords like a stunned kidnap victim blindly fighting off their attackers.
• Robbie Williams’ Angels. It was a shame the joyous conclusion to one of the most inventive TV shows of the year should be blighted by a festering sore that could be seen from space. As Jesus was led away for his crucifixion, Keith Allen rather smugly claimed that “this is the 21st century and we don’t do public executions anymore” but such physical gruesome barbarism has been substituted by the mental anguish of brainwashing vacuities like Angels. “Does an angel contemplate my fate?” is the moment when the 18cm iron spikes are driven through the wrists, followed by a similar barb through the heels to fix the victim in place. “Do they know the places where we go when we’re grey and old” is the soiling sensation of the cold blood running between the fingers and toes before slowly coagulating. And “I’m loving angels instead” is the agony just before the merciful release as the lungs, red raw with pain, find each breath an impossible exertion.