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A contemporary twist to an ancient story
We Three by Dramatic Pause Theatre Company explores the relevance of the nativity story in a contemporary context. Written by Hayley Lawson-Smith and directed by Eryn Kimberley the play is now showing in the Studio Theatre at Gasworks Arts Park as part of its "Premiere Season' of new works until 1 August. Book your tickets here
'We Three' live on stage in the Studio Theatre at Gasworks Arts Park
'We Three Kings of Orient are Bearing gifts we travel so far
Field and fountain, moor and mountain Following yonder star…'
Traditionally branded as 'The Three Wise Men' or 'The Magi', We Three presents a contemporary interpretation of the ancient Judeo-Christian story of the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem and the 'Slaughter of the Innocents' by Herod.
We meet 'The Three' and a shepherd wandering in the desert, pitching their tent, and following 'The Star'. It's the desert, it's hot, the pace of action and speech is slow, and the three spend most of their day sleeping, avoiding the sun, trying to stay hydrated or getting drunk on red wine. However, one of 'The Three' is pregnant, which turns up the heat on this traditional story.
Gaspar (Paul Wentford) is concerned about where 'The Star' is located, what it means and whether it will guide them to the newborn in Bethlehem. Balthasar (Andrea Mendez) is suffering from sunburn and dehydration, but initially takes on the traditional female role of cooking for the crew, whilst battling pregnancy-induced nausea. Gaspar is concerned for Bathlasar whilst Melchior (Mohan Lakshmipathy) treats her like one of his servants and questions her heritage and role in this whole adventure especially as a pregnant woman. Balthasar wants to understand the stars like Gaspar and begs him to teach her about them.
Gaspar is the prophetic of 'The Three' and often speaks in poetic verse. There are flashbacks to Gaspar in discussion with Herod (Berk Ozturk) about the journey, and their agreement that when Gaspar finds the 'Messiah', he will return to take Herod to meet the newborn child. However, once in the desert Gaspar follows the stars, and decides not to indulge Herod's desire to slaughter the newborn king, and does not return to the palace.
The Shepherd (Berk Ozturk) plays an endearing role as a servant, potential lover of Gaspar, and herder of goats. However, Balthasar decides to treat Shepherd as her servant, engaging him to clean up after her morning expulsions, and deliver her baby. This is fitting with the idea that Shepherds are humble and 'hands-on' and the 'meek will inherit the earth'.
The gifts given to the newborn are not gold, frankincense and myrrh, but modern wrapped Christmas gifts. The audience is also provided with individual children's toys to hold during the performance. There are some jabs at 'Google' and 'Coca-Cola' in the discussion between Balthazar and Melchoir about the commercialism of Christmas hijacked by the Western culture, however, the message is not clearly articulated and could be missed or misinterpreted.
In a strange twist a cuckoo is introduced, but you will have to see the show to understand why. The most important thing to know is that cuckoos lay their eggs in the nest of other species. This element is used quite well in the play, however, if you did not know the symbolism of the cuckoo, then you could miss the point entirely.
The play has many elements, which are complex, and rely on the audience to be familiar with the Nativity story. It's an hour show which continues for 90 minutes, at an incredibly slow place, and it is hard for the audience to stay engaged.
There are cultural elements – Melchior sings a lullaby in another language to the newborn, which is a beautiful scene, and shows how a newborn can soften a person's attitude and behaviour. However, not having a translation of the words of the song, makes it difficult to understand the meaning.
The set design is wonderfully simple and clever (Eryn Kimberley) where a simple maypole of calico ribbons creates a nomadic caravan, and a tent to make the journey through the desert real. The cradle becomes a fire, then a stove, and shows the creativity and flexibility of the design where properties have multiple uses.
We Three is a new work developed through the 'Premiere' program at Gasworks Arts Park. The play attempts to raise a lot of different issues - the role of women, commercialism, representation of ethnicity and ancient texts and the murder of children. However, at times it is difficult to understand what the central message or through line the play is trying to achieve. Certainly, the dialogue is sophisticated, and research behind the story is evident, and the actors carry the dialogue and action well. I look forward to seeing further developments of this work.