Musical in two acts
Book & lyrics by David Wood: Music by Tony Hatch and Jackie Trent
Wimbledon Theatre, London - 23 February, 1976
All the cast, the size of which is variable, are assembled to retell the Christmas story in the form of a modern equivalent of the mediaeval mystery play. They all play the chorus, and individually become the characters in the story as required.
The play opens with the traditional picture of the nativity scene in the stable at Bethlehem. The Evangelist recalls the prophesies of the Old Testament and the Chorus sing a hymn of praise, leading to a flashback of how the story started. In Nazareth Gabriel makes his visitation to Mary, who sings the Magnificat. Joseph returns from working on the house he is building for himself and Mary to live in after their marriage. He is disturbed and bewildered by the news of Mary's pregnancy, but Gabriel's explanation and Mary's obvious sincerity convince him that God lies made him part of His unprecedented plan; he is to become guardian of God's only-begotten Son the King of the Jews.
But Herod is the earthly King of the Jews, and in Jerusalem defends his right, by decree from Rome, to remain 10.
Far away in Persia, the three Wise Men discuss their predictions: the stars point to the birth of a King, a spiritual leader, a universal magnate. As they talk, Saturn, Jupiter and Mars appear to align with each other in the sky, creating the brightest star the Wise Men have ever seen. They decide to follow it; it will lead them to where the new King is born.
Back in Nazareth, Herod announces Caesar's decree that every citizen must report for a census and tax-gathering in the town of his birth. Joseph and Mary, who is heavily pregnant, have to set off for Bethlehem. They are joined by many other travellers on the road.
On arrival, they pass through the census point. As a soldier interviews them, Mary nearly collapses. All the accommodation in Bethlehem is already taken, but an innkeeper and his wife take pity on Joseph and Mary and allow them to shelter in their stable. Joseph makes Mary at comfortable as possible and reaffirms his love for her and his determination to carry out God's will.
The Wise Men arrive in Jerusalem and have an audience with Herod. They abruptly declare that they are searching for a new King. Herod immediately smells a plot to dethrone him, but suggests they try Bethlehem. where the prophecies once foretold the birth of a ruler of Israel, and cunningly invites them to report back their findings. After the Wise Men's departure he reflects on the dangers of being a King.
At night, on a hillside above Bethlehem, three shepherds bicker about life under Roman occupation. After a comic interlude in which they sing of the irony of shepherd's counting sheep to go to sleep, they react terrified and amazed to Gabriel's arrival summoning the faithful to worship Christ the King. born this night in a manger. Putting two and two together, the shepherds set off to look in all the stables of Bethlehem until they find Him.
Jesus has been born in the stable. Gabriel leads in the Wise Men and the Shepherds who present their gifts and sing of the wonder of the birth. contrasting the majesty of its meaning with the simplicity of its circumstances.
Everybody jubilantly sings of the glory of the Christmas story.
Herod interrupts the Jubilation to discuss the latest situation with his secretary. The Wise Men have not returned so he assumes they have not found their so-called new King.
Meanwhile the Wise Men, influenced by Gabriel, decide it would be impolitic to inform Herod of the fulfilment of their prediction, and start their journey home. Herod, to quell his fear, sends his henchmen to investigate the Wise Men's progress.
In the temple in Jerusalem Simeon, the elderly priest who the Holy Spirit promised would see the Son of God before he dies, is conducting a blessing service. Parents present their children to God and make their offerings. Mary and Joseph bring the baby Jesus to Simeon, who recognises the Christ child and ecstatically blesses him. The old man can now die peacefully, but not before he is interrogated by Herod's spies.
Back in the stable, Mary sings to her baby, with the realisation that one day she will lose Him to His higher purpose. Joseph suggests they stay in Bethlehem because God might like them to as further fulfilment of the prophecies that the Son of God will be barn of the family of David. But their plans swiftly change when the innkeeper's Wife arrives, hysterical because her husband has been arrested by Herod's henchmen for questioning - they have traced the Wise Men's movements to the stable, and heard about the birth.
In Jerusalem Herod interrogates the Innkeeper and realises that he is too late - the baby and the parents, as well as the Wise Men, have escaped. So he utters his cruel solution to the threat to his throne: every male child of two years or under is to be killed.
The chorus is stunned by this news, and Mary echoes their feelings by questioning how a loving God con allow such evil and suffering in His world.
Gabriel arrives to aid the Holy Family's escape to Egypt, and, surrounded by the lamentation of bereaved mothers as Herod's soldiers carry out Herod's decree, they set off. A soldier stops them and plunges his sword through their travelling beg in case they have a baby concealed. But Mary hat hidden the baby Jesus under her cloak. They flee to Egypt.
Herod dies. The threat to Jesus' life is. thus removed, and Gabriel tells Mary and Joseph they can return from exile to Nazareth where a new beginning awaits them. The chorus all herald the dawn of a new tomorrow in a final universal message of hope.
The size of the cast is variable (depending upon how much doubling is used) within the suggested framework of the actors never leaving the basic set, but all play the chorus, who assume individual roles by putting on a different hat or cloak. Each member of the chorus need not be identifiable with only one character in the story, adopting roles as necessary and could consist of any number of either sex. It would thus not be strange to find, say, a male character in the story played by a female member of the chorus. The characters they play are as follows (as a guide, the original cast's voice ranges are indicated in brackets):
- Evangelist (Baritone)
- Mary (A mezzo Soprano)
- Joseph (Baritone)
- The Angel Gabriel (Tenor)
- King Herod (Baritone)
- Secretary to King Herod (Tenor)
- Melchior (Tenor), Caspar (Baritone), Balthazar (Baritone) - The Three Wise Men
- Gib (Tenor), Jon (Baritone), Daw (Baritone) - The Shepherds
- Simeon (Baritone)
- Roman Soldier (Tenor)
- Innkeeper (Non-singing)
- Inkeeper's Wife (Non-singing)
Herod's Spies, Soldiers, etc.
Dependent upon the numbers of the company available, say in a school
or society production: TOWNS FOLK, COURTIERS, SHEEP, TRAVELLERS, WORSHIPPERS
and PARENTS IN THE TEMPLE, ACOLYTES, HEAVENLY HOST etc