‘In the beginning… '
Many, many years ago, in the almost ancient past, in a time known as the 1970’s, a father read to his son every night from a book entitled ‘Bible Stories for Children’. This in itself is not especially extraordinary – millions of fathers over the centuries have read the same stories to their children. What was slightly odd was the fact that the father in question had no religious beliefs and was simply reading these Biblical tales because he believed they were ‘great stories’.
The young boy (who you have probably guessed by now was me) listened to these stories with great enthusiasm and not a little confusion. To a child’s sense of pedantic logic, a wrathful, jealous God punishing his followers for minor perceived transgressions seemed to be somewhat bizarre and quite frankly, often plain terrifying.
Many, many years later and I still found myself puzzling over the character of this Old Testament God and I began imagining how things must have seemed from His perspective. I began to imagine Him as a thwarted idealist, a father whose children had continually disappointed him - as an all too human figure who had suffered betrayal and frustration.
At that time
I was working on a comedy sketch show called the313show and one of our recurring characters was a super cheerful chat show host called Binty O’Reilley. I would like to be able to say that the idea of having God appear as a guest on a chat show was divinely inspired, but to be honest, I can’t remember how the idea originally came to me. I wrote a five-minute sketch which would eventually become the opening of the play and arranged to film it. The only problem was that the actor who was going to play God didn’t show up. At the time I did not appreciate the irony of a literally absent God. I was (not entirely reluctantly) forced to don a white robe, put flour in my hair and ‘play God’ myself.
Out of this experience grew the idea of writing a full-length play in which God is interviewed and gives His version of the edited highlights of the Old Testament. I must confess that the idea of writing such a thing was massively daunting. I mean who did I think I was, attempting to rewrite stories that have been the foundation for so much of western culture and formed the basis for three of the world’s major religions? Not only that, but I would be writing as the actual ‘voice of God’, which is about as presumptuous and egotistical as it is possible to be.
I scribbled a few lines every now and again, but consistently delayed starting any serious writing. The subject matter just seemed too overwhelming. I also had the sneaking suspicion that by tackling the Bible I was inviting disaster. The image of the vengeful God from my childhood memory loomed all too large in my imagination. Eventually, my more rational (or foolhardy) self won out and I determined to write ‘God – The Untold Story’. What’s the worst that can happen? I asked myself. I was soon to find out...
Eating the Forbidden Fruit
So… I had decided to rewrite the Old Testament (arguably the most famous and revered book ever written) and retell it in the voice of God (arguably the most famous and revered ‘character’ ever written about.) Thinking back, it may not have been the most sensible idea to write a comedy play with the potential to offend several billion people and also possibly seriously annoy the Ultimate Divine Being. I reassured myself that burning heretics at the stake is no longer common practice and that God (if He/she exists) has hopefully developed a sense of humour by now and would not choose to inflict a series of Biblical plagues upon me.
I am relieved to report that so far, I have yet to be stoned by an angry mob or tortured by the Spanish Inquisition (they do still exist!). However, things did get quite ‘difficult’ during the period I was writing ‘God – The Untold Story’. At the risk of sounding overly melodramatic, some of the highlights of my fall from grace included; losing my sight for a week, near organ failure and a phone call from my GP in which I was told "No need to worry but you might have a brain tumor.” In other noteworthy incidents I was forced to close down my production company, my father was made temporarily homeless due to the incompetence and indifference of the property company and lawyers I had instructed to sell his house, and I found myself in the unfortunate position for the first time in my life of not being able to pay the bills. There were numerous other mini-disasters, major betrayals and slight calamities, but I will save those stories for another time.
Despite being defiantly un-superstitious, I did begin to feel that maybe, just maybe I was a little bit cursed in an almost Biblical sense. Fortunately, I never had to suffer an eruption of painful boils or a plague of locusts (so far).
‘The truth is the story I am about to tell you and it is the greatest story never told. Greater even than The Lord of the Rings - though hopefully a bit shorter.'
On the plus side
The unfortunate situations I found myself in did allow me to very much focus on my writing and also allowed me to understand ‘God’ as a character who has fallen on hard times; forgotten and abandoned by His followers and lost in a universe which no longer made sense. I began to perceive God as a somewhat tragic figure, raging in Lear like despair, struggling to be understood by those closest to him and determined to once again become relevant and to resume control of His own destiny.
God needed to stage a comeback and I needed to write a comedy stage play about it…
Our original stage play, 'God - The Untold Story' has now had two successful London runs, most recently at the well loved KING'S HEAD THEATRE in Islington.
By Jason Fité - Owner at Peracals Productions Ltd and writer/director of 'God - The Untold Story'.
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