Jonathan Petre, BBC News, November 17, 2007
The BBC stoked controversy yesterday by announcing plans for a “contemporary” nativity play featuring Mary and Joseph as asylum seekers instructed to report to the nearest passport office.
The contemporary nativity play will feature Mary and Joseph as asylum seekers in Liverpool
In a move that has dismayed traditionalists, who think the story is dramatic enough without having to embellish it with politically correct themes, the action will take place in the centre of Liverpool.
The story will be told against a backdrop of pop music and will star Cathy Tyson, who appeared as a call girl in the film Mona Lisa, as a female Herod and Jennifer Ellison, the former Brookside star and glamour model, as an angel.
During the retelling, actors in contemporary dress will walk through parts of the city singing hits from The Beatles’ “Let it Be” and “Lady Madonna” to The Zutons’ “You Will, You Won’t”, accompanied by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.
Geoffrey Hughes, who played binman Eddie Yeats in Coronation Street, leads the cast as the Angel Gabriel, directing events as they unfold from William Brown Street in the city centre.
Herodia, played by Cathy Tyson, is a paranoid government minister in a fictional state desperately clinging to power who orders a crackdown on immigration.
In the midst of the turmoil, Mary discovers she is pregnant and must fight to protect both Joseph and her unborn child.
Members of the public will be able to watch the action from other parts of Liverpool on giant screens. The project is not the first of its kind to be attempted by the BBC; last Easter, it staged a live version of the Passion from the streets of Manchester.
Although the 300-strong cast will include angels and Mary—played by Jodie McNee—is portrayed as a virgin, many Christians will be upset by the presentation.
Tony Kilmister, the vice-president of the Prayer Book Society, said the BBC was indulging in “gimmickry” and was undermining the dignity of the nativity.
“This is not the sort of thing that Christmas needs,” he said.
“The story is loved and revered by Christians around the world. There is a dignity to it that will be lost.
“Adding political correctness of this sort is harmful and quite uncalled for.”
The BBC, which will broadcast the hour-long event live on December 16 on digital channel BBC3, said the nativity was far more than the simple story beloved of primary schools.
It said the “intimate, personal” story of a pregnant young girl set against a background of political tension and unrest was as “fresh and relevant today as it was 2,000 years ago”.