It is said in the programme notes that this play was originally twice the length and went through many re-writes and changes before finally reaching the West End. In fact, Tom Conti requested some of the changes himself. This involvement by Conti shows how much faith he has in the show, and boy it really shows on stage as Conti is at his very best producing some wonderful acting skills.
This story concerning the birth of Jesus is told from the point of view of Jesus' Jewish father, Joseph. Joseph told us how he came to meet Mary and how he handled finding out that she had become pregnant by God! We discover that Joseph was an ordinary bloke and was not a good carpenter. The story is full of funny anecdotes and friendly mocking. We are told that the Three Wise Men were not that wise "they turn up bearing gold, frankincense and myrrh, couldn't they find a rattle, something he could use?" Although this is a comedy, the events leading up to Jesus' death is handled touchingly and horrifically.
Tom Conti playing the humble Jewish father is superb. Although, I'm sure many will find him excruciating, particularly with his impersonation of 'Mary', which some may find silly or even offensive! But there is no questioning Conti's talent with his Jewish impersonations and wonderful facial features and timing. (I recommend getting as close as possible to the stage to fully appreciate the facial expressions)
The show has received some good and bad reviews from the popular press. MICHAEL COVENEY of THE DAILY MAIL says "It is intelligent, ruminative stuff, neatly tailored and languidly discharged by Conti in a heavily-accented Jewish voice which rolls out liquidly beneath those come-hither eyes that stay hooded to the last minute of sudden resurrection." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE of THE TIMES says John Dowie had "succeeded in humanising Joseph and the Holy Family without giving unseasonable offence to believers" and goes on to say "Aside from its affectionate portrait of Joseph, the piece offers an interestingly unconventional angle on a being who sought to subtract the violence from Messianism. And isn't that rather refreshing at Christmas?" MICHAEL BILLINGTON of THE GUARDIAN says, "I know this is the season of charity and goodwill. But there are limits. And I find it hard to warm to John Dowie's 65-minute monologue, ably performed by Tom Conti." BRIAN LOGAN of TIME OUT says, "John Dowie's character-comedy sketch about the Messiah's surrogate dad has been stretched across 70 minutes without gaining the richness or rigour that might make that transition succeed." "NICHOLAS DE JONGH of THE EVENING STANDARD gave the most scathing review show saying " One of the worst and unfunniest evenings I have ever suffered in Shaftesbury Avenue."
This show may have received some pretty bad reviews from some of the popular press, but I found it charming, warm, touching and funny.