Sixty-Six Books, Bush Theatre, London
Thursday 20 October 2011
You can't accuse the Bush Theatre of failing to do its bit by the Bible. Back in the spring, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the King James version, it sent audiences off on selective guided tours of Westminster Abbey where they were waylaid by famous actors intoning site-specifically appropriate passages. Now it has gone for broke. Newly housed in the reconverted Old Library on the Uxbridge Road, the theatre has chosen to relaunch itself with a mammoth endeavour in which 66 writers, 23 directors and 130 actors join forces to respond to all 66 books of the King James Bible.
It's a heroic, slightly mad enterprise – and requires a correspondingly valiant, batty stamina of punters who are prepared to stay the course for the 24-hour marathons at weekends. I baled out after the first segment of nine plays, which opens with Catherine Tate's Almighty, who communicates the story of Genesis via Twitter in Jeanette Winterson's flip Godblog. This, then, is a far from comprehensive report. But I feel that I saw enough to make some general deductions.
The least effective pieces forlornly presuppose detailed familiarity with the original. If you haven't recently brushed up on the Book of Joshua, it's hard to make head or tail of Daisy Hasan's convoluted contemporary reworking. By contrast, Neil Bartlett's The Opening of the Mouth is a moving masterclass in how to incorporate the old within the new. Recalling how he read it as the lesson when he was a 13-year-old-boy, a middle-aged gay man reflects on the text of the Balaam and the Ass story, with its sympathy for the under-donkey (so to speak), and contrasts its meaning for him then and now.
One of the loveliest little plays is Stella Duffy's response to the Book of Ruth, a tender, warmly humorous study in resilient sisterhood in which Ruth and her mother-in-law (touchingly played by Nikki Amuka-Bird and Kate Duchene) survive in an alien land through the strength of their unconventional devotion. But it's questionable whether the no-sooner-on-than-off approach dictated by the rapid turnover or the resulting wild variations of tone give such a play room to breathe or the audience sufficient pause for consideration. You can't fault the ambition and audacity of the project, with its range of art forms and contributors (everyone from the Archbishop of Canterbury to Tim Rice), but even an evening-length section, such as I saw, demonstrates certain drawbacks to chronological completism.
To 28 October (020 8743 5050)
tv Jenny Lee may have left, but Miranda Hart and the rest of the midwives deliver the goods
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Christmas comes early to Hong Kong, as millions of bank notes spill out onto busy street
- 2 The 'Black Museum': After 150 years, public can visit police’s grisly crime museum
- 3 British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
- 4 Vagina canoe artist facing two years in jail defends herself over ‘obscenity’ charges
- 5 The Queen’s speech 2014: Recap and Twitter reaction to Game of Thrones reference
Felicity Jones on being Stephen Hawking's wife in The Theory of Everything: 'I didn't want her to be a saint'
EastEnders Christmas Day special, TV review: It's all about the Carters this Christmas - and Danny Dyer is brilliant
Game of Thrones season five: First preview clip shows a beardy Tyrion, a moody Cersei and a distressed Arya
Doctor Who: Jenna Coleman to stay on as Peter Capaldi’s assistant Clara Oswald in next series
The Interview finally gets US release after Sony hack and terror threats – but reviews of North Korea satire are mixed
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever
Alex Salmond has 'broken his word to the Scottish people' says Scottish Lib Dem leader