TALES FROM KING JAMES
devised by Helen Tennison, Tom Peters and Raewyn Lippert.
St Barnabas Church Cardigan Street OX2 6BG To 11 June 2011.
Mon-Sat 8pm except 11 June 9pm Mat 4 June 2pm.
Runs 1hr 20min No interval.
TICKETS: 01865 766266.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 1 June.
Tales from King James – language sometimes too – and physically inventive staging.
And behold, a certain audience went down from Oxford to Jericho, that inner-suburb of quiet, narrow streets, which was once a roistering, infected area without the city walls. And there, beneath the campanile of St Barnabas’ Church, hard by the University Press that once had a hand in publishing the Word itself, did they behold stories from the biblical canon.
It’s 400 years since the translation authorised by King James I was published, built on earlier versions made when translating the Bible was, if not a sin, a crime – several translators having being executed for executing it.
Such turbulence, and the doubt it might well occasion about the canonically ordered history of God’s creation, are here present. The action is set amidst violent times, with a peasant couple unable to return home. Old Testament disruptions seems especially appropriate, and it is the source for most of the material. The New gets a look in with the Crucifixion – violence and execution again – only the final Easter Morning bringing eventual hope.
Occasional moments seem forced, and tales don’t always stick to Authorised language. Moses’ story is rapid and clear, in lively rhyming-verse, just not very – well – King James. And the opening sections seem to reduce matters to a simplistic battle of the sexes (a wound later healed). Weakest section is the man’s book-tearing rage. The anger of faith undermined by events, life’s conflict of aspiration and reality, is important, but is overwrought in expression.
A shame, for biblical material has rarely been used so creatively on stage, asking, for example, why Lot’s wife is turned to a pillar of salt (a scene beautifully staged with sheets creating the pair departing Sodom, she looking back after reaching out to a husband who doesn’t notice), while sin-city Nineveh (caught in a quick cabaret of seedy decadence) is spared.
With God as a rural-voiced gardener and a late appearance by the comically down-to-earth (floods notwithstanding) Mr and Mrs Noah, strong acting and inventive staging (Ashley Bale’s lighting atmospheric and surprisingly varied in this non-theatrical setting) this is, overall, a theatrically lively, dramatically thoughtful piece.
Cast: Tom Peters, Raewyn Lippert.
Director: Helen Tennison.
Designers: Neil Irish, Sarah Bacon.
Lighting: Ashley Bale.
Sound: Matt Eaton.