First Night: Nativity play from a sort-of dad's angle

Jesus My Boy Apollo Theatre London

CALL ME an old softy, corrupted by the Christmas spirit, but I didn't loathe every single second of Jesus, My Boy - a solo vehicle for Tom Conti, in which, with a grizzled beard, leather carpenter's apron and a lot of Semitic shrugging, he plays Jesus' sort-of dad.

Apart from being the role in which many a short-trousered lad makes his stage debut, Joseph is also an archetype of the tragi-comic cuckold, cast in the role of unwitting gooseberry while the Holy Spirit has its (un)wicked way with the Virgin Mary.

On a set that looks like the background to some "Wonders of Woodwork" CD-rom, Conti never manages to get especially agitated about this. When Mary informs him of the paternity, he shrugs.

And after a birth in which he's a klutzy, New Man participant, he punctures the sanctimony by admitting, palms upward, "I was hoping for a girl".

The proceedings never begin to match the treatment of Joseph's predicament you find in the medieval mystery plays or, say, in Auden's brilliant Christmas oratorio For the Time Being, where the character's plight mirrors the poet's own confused feelings of betrayal by his lover.

But, even in the latter half where your really begin to feel that this piece is hitching a shameless lift on the Christian story, there are moments that disconcert with their emotional directness. True, the gorge duly rose at Conti's Joseph's cutesy farewell - "Shalom. Bye-bye".

But I confess myself moved and held by Joseph's distress when he finds the boy Jesus in the temple, irritatedly slaps him, and is met with the desolating answer: "Did you not know? I am in the house of my father."

And it's an instance of rare large-mindedness in John Dowie's script that Joseph at one point sympathetically remembers another dad whom God put in an awkward spot. After all, there's an alternative show that could be called Judas, My Boy.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Recruitment Genius: Magento Front End Web Developer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Front End Web Developer is re...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore