Performing theatrical miracles

LITERATURE

You might have thought that this year's two spiritual spectaculars, The Mysteries at the RSC and Jesus Christ Superstar at the Lyceum, would have stuck around for Easter. Perhaps it was felt that these things can be overegged or that, in the light of poor reviews, trying to convert non-believers at this stage would smack of desperation. Whatever the reason, worry ye not: if you want to sample the scriptures this weekend, the pulpit is not the only place to look.

The Barbican Centre is mounting a Bible festival. As well as screenings and concerts, there are three days of readings by name actors, many on holiday from secular smashes. In St Giles, the centre's church, George Baker and Timothy West will vent extracts from Genesis and Exodus (3pm today). On Sunday in the Barbican theatre, Ian McKellen will pronounce the Gospel of St John (3pm); later, at 7pm, a cast including Dennis Quilley and Samantha Bond will take on Old Testament favourites (Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes). For gospel addicts, Michael Pennington and Fiona Shaw (right) will be delivering Revelations on Monday afternoon (3pm, St Giles).

The text being used is the 1611 King James Bible, chiefly because of the poetic force of its language, which is often put on a par with that of Shakespeare. Much of the "authorised version" owes an enormous debt to a much lesser known William.

William Tyndale was the first to translate the New Testament from Greek into English and was burned at the stake as a heretic in 1536 for his pains. It's at the Battersea Arts Centre rather than the Barbican, however, that his part in refashioning the mother tongue is getting paid its full dues. AandBC, a young theatre company with a good track record in Shakespeare, are performing a no-frills resurrection play based on Tyndale's 1525 New Testament entitled If I Were Lifted Up from Earth.

Christ wished to "draw all men unto me", Tyndale wished all men to know the Scripture. Director Greg Thompson has a more modest ambition: "All we want to do is let the language be heard, we're not promising miracles."

A sign of the times, as Tyndale himself once coined it.

'If I Were Lifted Up From Earth' BAC, Lavender Hill, Battersea, SW11 (0171-223 2223) 8pm Sat, 3pm Sun, 11,12 Apr pounds 10/5; 'The Bible', Barbican, Silk St, EC2: St Giles Church pounds 8/5, Barbican Theatre pounds 12.50/9/7 (0171- 638 8891)

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