Now, take my friend Marlene: she's a very artistic type. You probably know the sort - dangly Trade Craft earrings, pencils and paint brushes pushed into her hair geisha - style: half-moon glasses precariously perched an the and of her nose and a pair of Doc Martens - one red and one green. ('I've another pair like this you know.')
She's a leading light in regional amateur dramatics with a name for her radical re-workings. Her trans-gender 'Phantom of the Opera' is still talked about in hushed tones…… in Dewsbury. Marlene is also a bit of a committee junkie, an inveterate organiser and with a reputation for not tolerating fools: (i.e. most other people she knows). So 1 wasn't particularly surprised when she agreed to the Church Councils' request to stage last year's Nativity. So, the committee gathered in her large kitchen, all shaker style furniture and IKEA fittings - very Chapel Allerton. Oh, and she had an agenda.
“To bring this story alive it has to be brought into the present. We must make it relevant!” And so she set about her task with relish - carrying the rest of us, I have to say, rather in the slipstream of her enthusiasm.
Her neighbour's daughter, Sigourney, was cast as Mary, notwithstanding the fact that at 14, she was pushing the boundaries of virginity somewhat.
“But she's ethnic. Don't you see she's perfect for the part: so 21st century marginalized.” and that was that.
Marlene had intended to use her contacts on the Pink Housing Co-operative to cast The Three Wise Men, but in the event she didn't get things all her own way: internal politics in the Housing Co-Operative being what they are, and with negotiations turning unpleasant, the Wise Men turned out to be Justin, Trevor ... and Brenda….and you probably remember that Marlene and Brenda have not been on civil terms since the unfortunate incident at the Turkish bath.
Well it won't matter' said Marlene, all hurt pride and a large gin. “No one will notice the difference- All they'll see is three moustaches. And they'll be Wise Men in this production. After all, we couldn't possible call them Kings; could we?" she said looking at Justin and Trevor and laughing like a drain. Blank looks from the rest of the committee. “Completely over their heads.” she said to me.
The rest of the casting fell into place: the local Imam graciously declined the role of the Angel Gabriel. "Well you can take multiculturalism to the point of political correctness and then where would we all be? Answer me that?" Observed Brenda. Terry, the local postman took his place in a stunning piece of symbolism that no one got, even when Marlene, to considerable consternation insisted that he performed in his uniform.
“Philistines.” she said, as she explained with elaborate patience for the third time the symbolism of postman as messenger of God.
“Actually, Marlene, point of order. The Philistines were a very cultured people”
“Actually, Trevor, any more points of order and you’ll be the back end of the donkey."
Sigourney's boyfriend Cammeron - that's with two m’s - was drafted in as the innkeeper. A night-club doorman by trade he had little difficulty with the lines- “You can't come in here, we're full' although he did tend to keep fooling around at rehearsals and ad-libbing: 'You can't come in mate, but you can, love, we're letting in girls for half price”.
Now Brenda likes to think of herself as worldly-wise, but she flummoxed us all with her references to Cammeron’s musical animal impersonations. Eventually she explained: “Cammeron’s hung like a stallion, Sigourney told me. So, what does that sound like then? How does one sing like a stallion?”
Joseph was to be played by Len, the church caretaker.
"But he's about 1000 years old Marlene."
"Joseph was older than Mary you know. Anyway, it says a lot about the exploitation of women in a patriarchal society."
Rehearsals came and went as rehearsals do.
"Marlene, I'm sorry to interrupt but I'm having trouble with my character. What's my motivation here?"
"Piss off Trevor. Any more of that Luvvy crap and you’ll be the both ends of the donkey.”
"Len, please! How often have 1 told you? Don't smoke during the birth scene - the baby Jesus is inflammable."
"Marlene, if I hear another Christian say: 'and Wise Men seek him still . . . .' I may just throw up"
"Brenda, they're not Christians, they're Church of England."
"But I've heard they're a very inclusive congregation."
"Oh is that right Justin? Inclusive are they? Well you try being heterosexual in this congregation and see where it gets you."
"Sigourney, no more piercings please - at least not before Christmas. I'm sorry Cammeron ... you've had what pierced? I see .... well, we shan't need to see that on stage thank you very much"
“Point of order, Marlene, technically, its not Christmas, its Advent, which means….”
“SOMEBODY BRING ME THE BLOODY DONKEY OUTFIT”
"Terry. Drop the line about 'Special Delivery', it's not working-"
"Do I look 1st century enough in this?"
"It's Armani, Justin, you took fine ... Do up your flies."
And so the evening arrived --- and Marlene was proved right. It was a triumph- dramatic, moving and powerful. The stable became an old garage, back-lit in moody tones, the manger: the boot of a jacked-up wreck. Drug paraphernalia littered the floor. Three local characters shared a bottle around a brazier and stray dogs sniffed around the set. Everyone delivered their lines perfectly, and on cue it snowed. Even the arrival of Justin's nieces on set dressed as Frodo and Gandalf didn't raise an eyebrow.
It's hard to believe that it was nearly a year ago now, and here we are again getting ready for this year. It's going to be different this year though. After Marlene's triumph the church council members met in emergency session. Words like uncomfortable, inappropriate, trendy and travesty were bandied about.
So we're back to the traditional again- shepherds in tea towels carrying cuddly sheep and angels with tinsel halos. The relevant and the up-to date, it seems, have no place in the Christmas story.