Monday, 23 February 2009

The Virgin Father

A man who is on the run knows he will be tortured and executed if he is captured rants and wonders how he got himself into such a situation.
He tells how he ended up marrying the quiet girl in the village where he worked, even though he discovered she was pregnant and the child was not his.
He loved his wife - who left the house one day and has never been seen since - but the man says she was full of delusions and filled her son's head with strange ideas.
The man on stage, who we find out is called Joseph, worked as a carpenter and tried to lead a normal family life.
But he could never get away from the fact that he was not the real father of the boy who he was bringing up as his own and one day confronts Mary, his wife.
He is shocked when she tells him that the boy is the Son of God and that she has been telling her son that.
The Virgin Father is a monologue by Joseph who is hiding out in his workshop and recounting the circumstances which led to this day on which his friend Matthew - who is writing the story of his family - says he will be captured, tortured and killed but reunited by the end of the day with his wife and stepson.
In terms of Christian theology Joseph, as far as I'm aware, never had the same insider information that Mary and Jesus did and so must have had doubts about what was going on.
Writer Jimmy McAleavey takes this premise and exploits to its full tragic, and comic potential.
When Joseph's stepson goes off to spend some time with his cousin, Joseph is delighted, however, it turns out that cousin John is "the biggest headbanger of them all".
Joseph's stepson is never named, and although the chronology of the play in terms of the "trial" that he faced differs from the Gospels, as does Joseph's attempt to rescue him, there is never any doubt who is being referred to.
The Tinderbox Theatre Company production of The Virgin Father ran for just four nights at the Old Museum Arts Centre in Belfast last week. I saw it on its final night, Saturday, when the 80-seater theatre was full.
The stage had just a work bench with carpenter's tools laid out on it (with other hanging as backdrop), planks and sawdust on the floor, and a few other props. The lighting was superb, sinisterly red (like the sky described by Joseph on the day his step son was crucified), but changing to suit the mood.
There was also an ominous musical soundtrack, used sparingly but effectively to heighten the drama at the most tense moments.
Actor Stewart Ennis prowled the stage and embraced the role with total dedication, switching from bathos to pathos and back again.
McAleavey's play would probably be seen by many as blasphemous but he does not go out to undermine Christianity, rather he takes the central strands of the story and tells them from the perspective of a bewildered bystander who is at the heart of the action and yet outside it and trying to rationalise how he fitted in.

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