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Review: Secular slant serves to confuse.

Byline: Terry Grimley

The Coventry Mysteries 2003 Cathedral Ruins, Coventry

The English Mystery cycles, of which Coventry's was one, were naive knockabout pieces of theatre performed by townspeople in a context of unquestioned Christian faith.

The latest in what has become a triennial series of modern revivals continues the public involvement through nearly 100 members of what is now called a community cast, drawn from Galway as well as Coventry. But this version, jointly staged by the Belgrade Theatre and Irish company Macnas, is tailored for believers in all gods and -perhaps more particularly -none.

It presents Biblical events in hindsight, from the perspective of a crucified Christ who wonders if he wouldn't really have done better to ignore all that Son of God stuff and settle down to married bliss and a career in carpentery. The Resurrection is conspicuously absent.

By a historical sleight of hand Christ is able to debate with Jonah, whose sojourn in the whale has left him with no better opinion of the man upstairs. While, initially at least, this device injects a welcome dramatic spark into the evening, I did find Vincent Woods' windy text wearing. It seems likely to confuse at least as much as it enlightens.

The production scores higher on spectacle than argument. The animals in the Ark, each pair mounted on a puppeteer's shoulders, are a great advertisment for Macnas's model-making skills. Best of all is the Marriage at Cana, which fills the performance space with joyful colour, music (the effective score is by Coventry composer Derek Nisbet) and movement. And the water really does appear to turn into wine.

The outstanding performance comes from Joe Speare as Joseph/Jonah, who effortlessly commands a large open-air space with his physical presence and rich baritone voice.

However, the real star is the setting, which with its glimpses of floodlit spires and neighbouring ancient buildings turns increasingly magical as the darkness deepens.

Running time: One hour 15 minutes (no interval). Until August 23.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Aug 11, 2003
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