Tuesday 18 April 2006

Nature, love and Willy

There are two possible ways of starting the day in my house. One involves blearily turning on the Today programme, so that by 9 o’clock mass annihilation by bird flu looks a pretty attractive option. Compared with the imminent possession of the atomic bomb by people who believe that the resulting Apocalypse will provide ideal conditions for the return of the Twelfth Imam. Though at least the resulting nuclear winter will relieve the survivors of worrying too much about global warming.

The other and preferable course involves flinging back the curtains with a joyous shout and marvelling in the annual miracle of Nature’s renewal. Where I live our feathered friends are still singing rather than coughing, and the fields are full of those little, white, woolly things that specialise in that attractive pursuit known as gambolling. It’s enough to make even a middle-aged man’s fancy turn to thoughts of … why did I come into this room anyway? Isn’t that how it started with Mike Baldwin on Coronation Street?

In fact I’m still very much inclined to fall in love at the drop of a hat (though a hat would not necessarily be the first article of clothing I’d choose to have dropped to precipitate this reaction). Which is nice. Since, in my new incarnation as a guru (see last week’s column), I’ve come to realise that love is what it’s all about.

Love is the basis of all the great world religions, though it’s sometimes ever so slightly difficult to spot its workings in parts of the Middle East. The problem with religion is that either it’s true, in which case absolutely nothing else matters at all; or it’s not true, in which case it’s a waste of time (except in so far as it makes people feel marginally better about their lot, and perhaps behave more kindly towards others).

I don’t suppose I’m alone in having concluded that, on the balance of probabilities, it’s not true. But deciding to go on paying a sort of lip service since otherwise I might end up looking mighty silly when I wake up after I’ve died. My elderly aunt rather pleasingly refers to her weekly attendance at church as ‘keeping up the fire insurance’.

Last week I went to see a splendid production of Present Laughter in Newcastle, where I had a leaflet thrust into my hand by a shining-eyed Christian with a fervour that may have seriously compromised her chances of inheriting the Earth. It was a protest against the staging of Jerry Springer: The Opera, which I saw at the National Theatre shortly after it opened. It struck me as an entirely hilarious evening, and it never occurred to me that the grotesques pretending to be God, Jesus etc in the second half were actually meant to be literal representations, or were designed to cause offence.

Of course, the protestors are quite right to say that no-one would dare to stage a similar show involving Mohammed. I regret that self-censorship, since I believe that a faith worthy of the name should be more than capable of shrugging off criticism or ridicule. The alternative is to go down the path of hedging everyone’s beliefs with legal protection, however outlandish they may be. This ends up with no-one being able to suggest that the Moon probably isn’t made of green cheese, or that putting yourself down as a Jedi Knight on your census form is anything other than a pretty feeble joke.

Anyway, I’ve decided that what we need is to test the limits of artistic freedom with a show that combines a real appreciation of the glories of Nature with a full frontal assault on political correctness. Preliminary enquiries suggest that the enlarged stage being constructed at the Theatre Royal this summer will be more than capable of accommodating a full pack of hounds, and I’m about to start auditioning foxes. Willy Poole: The Musical should open early in 2007. Start saving for your tickets now.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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