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A CurtainUp London London Review
66 Books


First eviction! Adam and Eve out. Jews homeless until 1948. God-followers down the ages can now land-grab with a clear conscience.
Eve has twins Cain/Abel. Cain fads as veggie. Beads, sandals etc. Controlling type. Kills brother just because I prefer meat to veg.
SMS from Cain. ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ Oy Vey! Only 4 people on and already we have social unrest and homicide.
— God
66 Books
Catherine Tate as God while an angel types the blog
(Photo: Mark Douet)

66 Books is the unforgettable 24 hour Bush response to the 400 years since the publication of the King James Bible where 66 playwrights, poets and novelists have each contributed a new version of one of the books of the Old or New Testament. I dipped into two of the sessions covering the first nine books Genesis to 1 Samuel and the penultimate 7, 1 Thessalonians to Hebrews.

The books kick off with the well known Genesis with the inimitable Catherine Tate having the time of her life delivering Jeanette Winterson’s witty God Blog explaining how God came to be a global brand. It is clever and topical, for instance the Snake tempts Eve with Apple, iPhone, iPod, iPad and free Apps, or the called for sacrifice of Isaac is labelled "Tough Love". Bible study has never been this much fun!

One fairly traditional monologue follows with a non dramatised account of Exodus by poet Anne Michaels delivered by actress Polly Frame who injects enthusiasm into a rather dry and lengthy narrative. Kathryn Pogson’s haunted psychiatric patient narrates Caroline Bird’s dramatised response to Leviticus, which has sometimes been described as a manual for priests with its emphasis on biblical law and ritual cleansing. Neil Bartlett tackles Numbers, narrated and directed by Philip Franks with an anthropomorphic piece about Balaam’s donkey, which sent me back to my bible to read the original.

After the interval novelist Maha Khan Phillips’ curious The Rules is delivered by the unseen Anjana Vasan from an open red earth grave which has appeared in the floor of the stage talking as a woman raped and stoned about the rules that apply. That is the first five books and all are monologues. A project like this will inevitably be patchy because of the unevenness between the inputs and the impossibility of a continuous thread but the taking part will provide a unique experience as you bond with fellow audience members.

Novelist Daisy Hasan’s response to Joshua Sole Fide sees a cast of three youngsters in a tale about modern day India and groups of Christian revivalists. Playwright Tom Wells sets the story of Samson (Obi Abili) in a freak circus where the bearded lady Debbie (Delilah) has stolen his heart. The highlight of the second half was for me the tale of Naomi and Ruth as played by Kate Duchêne and Nikki Amuka-Bird and written by Stella Duffy. The two women narrate Ruth’s marriages in a beautifully written and acted story of the bride from another country’s enduring friendship with, and loyalty to, her mother in law. The nine books close with poet Andrew Motion’s powerful poem about David and Goliath, short but full of impact in Malcolm Sinclair’s performance.

In books 52-58, DC Jackson’s amusing Paul’s First Voicemail to Thessa has Paul (Oliver Birch) in toga and laurel wreath coming back from an evening of partying and leaving a long message on his mobile phone to someone, saying drunkenly how much he loves them. It was like sitting on a late train when the whole carriage listens transfixedly to one side of a drunken conversation. Christopher Shinn’s Falling Away responds to 2 Thessalonians and has Anna (Indira Varma) and Tom (Mark Bonnar) discussing their attraction to each other and married woman Anna’s choice in not putting her own happiness ahead of the needs of others. She is married to someone who is ill, a depressive, unemployed and mean. It is a powerful piece about love and sacrifice.

In Concerning Faith three sixteenth century English bishops debate in David Edgar’s 1 Timothy inspired play. These bishops witness the chopping and changing of the English church from Catholicism to Protestantism to Catholicism again and back to Protestantism. Latimer (Christopher Ravenscroft) is famously is burnt at the stake as a heretic. The epistle is about the organisation of the Pauline church and its bishops and here we find a bishop who loses his life for his faith.

I was baffled but amused by James Graham’s Timothy the Second with Pauline McLynn’s recycling clothing website which had the audience putting on a garment which is then redistributed several times. Anya Reiss’s Titus Sermon has Andrew Frame as a vicar addressing his very full congregation after a scandal involving their bishop Nicholas. Witty and great fun. Novelist Kamila Shamsie’s The Letter in response to Philemon has Prasanna Puwanarajah gifted to a man whose son was killed accidentally by his father. Finally in this section Anthony Weigh’s The Middle Man has modern day Paul (Syrus Loew) and Timothy (Shaun Dingwall) talking about homosexuality, a contemporary issue for the Church.

There were others I missed which I wish I had seen, like Neil Labute’s In the Land of Uz and Roy Williams’ The Suleman but I do have the Oberon text of all sixty six plays. This first project for the new Bush Theatre in the Old Library in the Uxbridge Road has been an occasion — ambitious, monumental and unifying.

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66 Books

The full list of writers is Jeanette Winterson (Genesis), Anne Michaels (Exodus), Caroline Bird (Leviticus), Neil Bartlett (Numbers), Maha Khan Phillips (Deuteronomy), Daisy Hasan (Joshua), Tom Wells (Judges), Stella Duffy (Ruth), Andrew Motion (1 Samuel), Wole Soyinka (2 Samuel), Roy Williams (1 Kings), Sam Burns (2 Kings), Salena Godden (1 Chronicles), Tim Rice (2 Chronicles), Naomi Foyle (Ezra), Mandla Langa (Nehemiah), Jackie Kay (Esther), Neil LaBute (Job), Kwame Kwei-Armah (Psalms), Toby Litt (Proverbs), Nancy Kricorian (Ecclesiastes), Carol Ann Duffy (Isaiah), Luke Kennard (Jeremiah), Owen Sheers (Ezekiel), Jack Thorne (Daniel), Nick Payne (Hosea), Yemisi Blake (Joel), Michael Rosen (Amos), Nancy Harris (Obadiah), Nick Laird (Jonah), Adam Foulds (Micah), Moira Buffini (Nahum), Trevor Griffiths (Habbakuk), Helen Edmundson (Zephaniah), Suheir Hammad (Haggai), Elinor Cook (Zechariah), Molly Naylor (Malachi), Laura Dockrill (The Gospel according to St Matthew), Steve Waters (The Gospel according to St Mark), Billy Bragg (The Gospel according to St Luke), Rowan Williams (The Gospel according to John), Lachlan Mackinnon (Acts), Amy Rosenthal (Romans), Matt Charman (1 Corinthians), Wena Poon (2 Corinthians), Deirdre Kinahan (Galatians), Marks & Gran (Ephesians), Chris Goode (Philippians), Zukiswa Wanner (Colossians), DC Jackson (1 Thessalonians), Christopher Shinn (2 Thessalonians), David Edgar (1 Timothy), James Graham (2 Timothy), Anya Reiss (Titus), Kamila Shamsie (Philemon), Anthony Weigh (Hebrews) Brian Chikwava (James), Helen Mort (1 Peter), Suhayla El-Bushra (2 Peter), David Eldridge (1 John), Nathalie Handal (2 John), Enda Walsh (3 John), Anne Carson (Jude) and Kate Mosse (Revelation).

The directors are Hannah Ashwell-Dickinson, Philip Franks, Peter Gill, Chris Goode, James Grieve, Titas Halder, Tamara Harvey, Robert Hastie, Olly Hawes, Christopher Haydon, Alice Lacey, Michael Longhurst, Roisin McBrinn, Joe Murphy, Nessah Muthy, Gbolahan Obisesan, Mark Rosenblatt, Josie Rourke, Richard Twyman, Charlotte Westenra, Philip Wilson, Abbey Wright and Madani Younis.

Cast: Obi Abili, Geraldine Alexander, Emma Amos, Nikki Amuka- Bird, Helen Anderson, Jade Anouka, Philip Arditti, Michele Austin, Ian Bailey, Peter Bankole, David Bark-Jones, Samuel Barnett, Hannah Barrie, Alex Beckett, Sasha Behar, Lily Bevan, Oliver Birch, Mark Bonnar, Sarah Booth, Billy Bragg, Louise Brealey, Michael Bruce, Nathan Bryon, Niall Buggy, Kate Burdette, Guy Burnett, Nicholas Burns, Nathan Bryon, Sam Chandley, Sean Chapman, Pandora Colin, Amy Cook, Nigel Cooke, Philip Cumbus, John Cummins, Arthur Darvill, Peter De Jersey, Shaun Dingwall, Patrick Drury, Kate Duchene, Daniel Easton, Will Evans, Nic Farman, Leonard Fenton, Harold Finley, Abby Ford, Phoebe Fox, Andrew Frame, Philip Franks, Mariah Gale, William Gaunt, Helen Gaynor, Becky Gemmell, Ruth Gemmel, Hebe George, Rachel Gillard, Nicholas Gleaves, Linal Haft, Amanda Hale, Claire Harrison, Tamara Harvey, James Hillier, Siu Hun Li, Kelly Hunter, Tori Jennings, Bettrys Jones, Aidan Kelly, Gareth Kieran Jones, Beverly Klein, Nitin Kundra, Divian Ladwa, Penny Layden, John Lightbody, Kathryn Linnel, Ralf Little, Syrus Lowe, Alex MacQueen, Dominic Mafham, Katie McGuinness, Joshua McGuire, Matt McKenzie, Pauline McLynn, Charles Mnene, Natalie Moggridge, Tanya Moodie, Hattie Morahan, Alan Morrissey, James Northcote, Jonjo O’Neill, Lucy Oliver-Harrison, Rob Ostlere, Harriet Oughton, Katherine Parkinson, Bill Paterson, Robin Pearce, Samantha Pearl, Bailey Pepper, Kathryn Pogson, Claire Price, Javone Prince, Prasanna Puwanarajah, Laura Pyper, Carrie Quinlan, Miranda Raison, John Ramm, Christopher Ravenscroft, Richard Rees, Philip Richardson, Ben Righton, Sian Robins-Grace, Christian Roe, Ryan Sampson, Jamie Samuel, Helen Schlesinger, Amit Shah, Owen Sharpe, Nav Sidhu, Hugh Skinner, Robin Soans, Sarah Solemani, Mia Soteriou, Rafe Spall, Juliet Stevenson, Shannon Tarbet, Michelle Terry, Ony Uhiara, Indira Varma, Anjana Vasan, Zoe Waites, Isobel Waller-Bridge, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Rick Warden, Leo Wringer, Sophie Wu. .
Running time: Each section two and a half hours to three hours with an interval or seen in 24 hours starting at 7pm
Box Office: 020 8743 5050
Booking to 29th October 2011
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 15th and 18th October 2011 performances at The Bush Theatre, 7 Uxbridge Road, London W12 8QD (Tube: Shepherd’s Bush/Goldhawk Road)

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