This year's season at the Globe gets rather nearer to the point implied in its title: 'The Word is God'. In fact, God gets star billing in this new work by poet Tony Harrison. Not only are we presented with the word of God, but we hear his words spoken. God has a throne in the gallery above the stage, surrounded by slats of odd pieces of wood and ladders all painted suitably gold.
If you know you're bible, or even someone else's bible if you do not actually possess a copy of your own, you will have a pretty good idea of how the plot runs. Things kick off with God and his angels. One of them, a proud and ambitious Lucifer, instantly has eyes on the boss's chair and is cast down to hell as a result. Next, God turns to creating the planets – represented by tennis balls. And then it is on to creating Adam and Eve who appear via a really neat trick from a very small packing case. There's another neat trick when an apple is produced from the balloons which form the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden.
Things start to go wrong, though, with the appearance of Cain and Abel, and by the time Noah arrives on the scene, it's time for God to wipe the slate clean and get rid of all life – except that he relents in the case of Noah and his family, of course. Once Jesus arrives on the scene, things get a little barbaric. Herod issues instructions to kill babies in order to get rid of Christ. The consequence is that we later see Herod standing in the midst of a grotesque pile of butchered babies.
God, excellently portrayed by David Hargreaves, has the traditional white hair and rather large white eyebrows, but in other respects seems more akin to an ageing allotment gardener and speaks like one too, if my experience is anything to go by. He also seems rather dour and disappointed when all his hard work with the creation of man goes wrong. Jesus – well-played by William Ash – is more a 'twenty-something' rather than a 'thirty-something', but copes admirably with being hauled up on the cross, a tricky operation that was executed by a large team with military-style precision.
The show is humorous, fun and enjoyable, but there are also emotionally-charged moments, particularly when Abraham is commanded by God to kill his favourite son, Isaac, and when Jesus drags his cross around the yard. However, it is overly long – a considerable amount of action could have been pruned (particularly from the second half) without doing any damage at all.
Though Tony Harrison's poetry is interesting and generally well-composed some words are repeated too regularly – especially “bliss” and “therefore” which, even if they were used intentionally to mimic the bible in some way, irritated nonetheless. I also found it hard to comprehend exactly what Tony Harrison's point of view is. On the one hand, the show pokes fun at certain events in the bible, but then there are more serious scenes where a solemn, more reverent attitude prevails. So I am left wondering if the play takes the view that the bible is a load of tosh, or what? Of course, it may be that Mr Harrison's point is that the story of creation is not to be revered, but the life of Christ deserves respect. I think the jury is still out, though.
"Though there are fleeting moments of depth, humour and invention, the show rarely rises to the heights demanded by its subject matter."
Charles Spencer for The Daily Telegraph
"At times the action lacks intensity, and while the flexibility and snappiness of Harrison's verse are impressive, we're not emotionally engaged by it as often as we should be."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard
External links to full reviews from popular press
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