Jesus My Boy

Previewed 7 December 1998, Opened 10 December 1998, Closed 6 February 1999 at the Apollo Theatre in London

An evening with Tom Conti featuring the John Dowie's solo monologue Jesus, My Boy in London for a strictly limited Christmas holiday season

The familiar story, told by his bewildered Jewish dad: "It was the greatest love story ever told and I was in it. I wooed her. I courted her. I married her. We lived together in a state of bliss. And then what happened? A child was born. And everything changed. And if you think a father has a say in any matter, forget it. In the hierarchy of families, the father is placed thus: 1st Mother; 2nd Son; 3rd Donkey; 4th Dad."

Tom Conti as a feisty Joseph tells the true story of the coming of the Messiah like you've never heard it before. Highlights include his memorable meeting with Mary, the truth behind the birth itself and his sceptical meeting with the allegedly wise men, all recounted in his own endearingly candid, essentially Jewish manner. The story ends with a touching reflection on the events leading up to his son's death.

An Evening With Tom Conti in Jesus, My Boy Followed By An Audience Conversation With Tom Conti (except Saturday matinees). Directed by Tom Kinninmont. Tom Conti's West End credits include the musical They're Playing Our Song.

"For those of us hoping for a strong solo piece about St Joseph, the omens seemed decidedly questionable. On the front of the Apollo programme was a photo of a waggish Tom Conti in an apron, giving his idea of a Jewish shrug. And when the curtain rose on a stage filled with tacky-looking carpentry, there was the man himself, waggishly delivering shrugging one-liners in a Fiddler On the Roof accent. ‘Maybe I should have been a mason,’ he began. ‘At least I would have had a nicer apron.’ Yet gradually Conti and his author, John Dowie, answered the doubts. Indeed, they succeeded in humanising Joseph and the Holy Family without giving unseasonable offence to believers. If Dowie succumbs to what some regard as the heresy of suggesting that Jesus had brothers, and hence that Mary did not remain virgin, at least he remains respectful of Joseph. The first aim is to rescue Joseph from the pictorial tradition that has transformed him into a sexless oldster piously drooping in the background. As Conti says: ‘I may not know much about art, but I know what I'm like.’ He is an inept carpenter, but a warm, caring man, who ends up doing his best to welcome Mary's bizarre pregnancy. Only when he talks of Roman brutality does a snarl enter his voice, and even then his natural pacifism stays intact. ‘That what is hateful to you, do not do unto others,’ he repeats, unpretentiously quoting the Torah. This brings us to the play's second aim, which is to suggest that maybe Joseph helped to form a mind that then went on its own, divinely guided journey. Dowie perhaps spends too little time evoking that journey, too much on betrothal, birth, soi-disant wise men who fail to keep their dangerous secret from Herod and think myrrh a more suitable gift for a baby than a rattle, and so on. But when Conti comes to the foul mechanics of crucifixion, he makes us feel the horror. There are still too many wry little jokes. And it is surely a mistake for Conti to transmute his voice into a loud alto squawk when he quotes a Mary whom Dowie thinks a hardier, shrewder woman than tradition allows. But, aside from its affectionate portrait of Joseph, the piece offers an interestingly unconventional angle on a being who sought to subtract the violence from Messianism. And isn't that rather refreshing at Christmas?" The Times

"Joseph the carpenter learned a few things from his son. But none as useful as the dove-tailed joint. The lad's promising apprenticeship was sadly diverted in other directions. This neat little script by stand-up comedian John Dowie gives Tom Conti a chance to entertain us gently; as opposed to gentilely for just over an hour. It is intelligent, ruminative stuff, neatly tailored and languidly discharged by Conti in a heavily-accented Jewish voice which rolls out liquidly beneath those come-hither eyes that stay hooded to the last minute of sudden resurrection. But can you possibly call this a seasonal West End offering? I think not. They should throw in a few carols and a mince pie. The show may be art, but it ain't Art. Talking of which, Joseph takes issue with the pictorial representations of the old celibate in the paintings. I may not know much about art, he says, but I know what I'm like. He was only 23 when Mary told him about the Immaculate Conception; not the pensioner wearing a tea towel on his head and holding a crook in the background. The Wise Men were not so clever. They have told Herod about the new King of the Jews, prompting the flight into Egypt. And they turn up bearing gold, frankincense and myrrh. They couldn't find a rattle, something he could use? Conti rambles amiably on - after some of the West End solos this year, such as Lee Evans or Steve Coogan, this is Jackanory-time - but explodes at last in recounting his son's advice to love your enemies. The greatest story ever told is cut down to size and Father's Day arrives for the second time this year. But I think Conti should have taken as his title the tag line his loyal fans justly reckon he contradicts: No Sex, Please, We're Jewish." The Daily Mail

"I know this is the season of charity and goodwill. But there are limits. And I find it hard to warm to John Dowie's 65-minute monologue, ably performed by Tom Conti, which views Jesus’ life from the vantage-point of his bewildered Jewish dad. Not much is learned from the Bible about Joseph: until I saw this show, however, I had no idea he was really Jackie Mason. Dowie's intention, I guess, is to approach the Christian story from an oblique angle. His Joseph is a lousy carpenter and humble Jewish guy whose only philosophy is "that which is hateful to you, don't do unto others". Suddenly he finds himself betrothed to Mary and told that she is going to have a child by God. To save her from stoning for adultery, he goes through with the marriage and becomes besotted by the child: he soon realises, however, that his growing boy's capacity to upset authority will lead inevitably to crucifixion by the Romans. What does an ordinary Joe do when he finds himself rearing a divinity? That might have made an interesting play. But Dowie ducks it in several ways. Firstly by presenting Joseph, for all his feigned humility, as a practised sit-down comedian. The whole joke of the evening, in fact, rests on the fabled events of the New Testament being viewed with a wry, anachronistic modernity. Joseph's initial reaction to Mary's portentous news is "Just run that by me again." Denying the story of no room at the inn, he reminds us that "There is only one inn in Jerusalem ... I'd have booked." And when it comes to the three wise men, they, for some reason, are seen as clueless Yanks who bring frankincense and myrrh when what the baby really wants is a rattle. Dowie's Joseph emerges as a skilled comic who owes more to the Borscht than the Bible belt. Dowie also ducks the big issue: at what point, if any, does Joseph realise his son is the Messiah? He is amazed at his child's precocious wisdom, disturbed by his miracles and appalled by his crucifixion, which, to be fair, he recounts with impassioned horror. But the inference is that Joseph is simply a decent guy mixed up in something he doesn't understand: which removes from the story any trace of the numinous or the transcendent. But, even if the play is ironically reductive, Tom Conti performs it with an easy deadpan authority. He has the gift of public relaxation and tells Joseph's side of things with a low-key retrospective amusement. But the better Conti's comic timing is, the more it exposes the charade-like nature of the event: what we are watching is essentially the transformation of Joseph into a practised showbiz raconteur who uses phrases like "working the room" and who probably does bar mitzvahs. Is there no place for humour in telling the Bible story? Of course there is. But they got it right in the medieval mystery plays. True faith has the strength to parody what it believes in. In a basically secular age like ours all we are left with, as here, is the calculated thinness of irony." The Guardian

Jesus My Boy with Tom Conti in London at the Apollo Theatre previewed from 7 December 1998, opened on 10 December 1998 and closed on 6 February 1999