The visual centrepiece of the festival was a remarkable work by
the veteran Royal Academician, Anthony Green.
Resurrection is a sprawling piece, somewhere between a
painting and a sculpture. Green, now in his 70s, has made a name
for himself with narrative paintings, often on shaped boards, in
which he charts his domestic life, as a way of talking about what
he calls his "pilgrimage through life".
Green works in the honourable tradition of eccentric English
artists such as William Blake and Stanley Spencer, who operate
outside the mainstream. Green's work is often so intimately
personal that you have to look away. When he spoke about his work
to festivalgoers, he said that the French called civilisation
"petite histoire". Slightly disingenuously, he said "I'm
just a little, ordinary bloke, with a little, ordinary life." But
putting all those little incidents together made him arrive at "my
big special idea: that we're all going to heaven."
Resurrection, like Spencer's resurrection paintings,
imagines Green's conflicted, troubled family, heading for heaven,
each through their individual stories. His mother, for instance, is
escaping to paradise, naked, from a clock, holding on to a lobster.
Green plans to join her: "I refuse to end up on the shelves of my
local garden centre as a bag of compost. I'm going to heaven."
While Green's work entertains whimsy, he was joined on the walls
of the gallery by the illustrations of the Australian
Michael Leunig (Faith, 8-29 July 2011). Leunig's
witty line takes us into a delightful, dreamy, meditative world
which is none the less rooted in red, Australian soil.
In the same gallery space, Simone Lia's
illustrations were earthy in a different way, as she expounded a
worm's-eye view of the world, inspired by Isaiah's words: "I am a
worm, and not a man." Si Smith goes somewhere
darker and more visceral with his homage to the book of Job. His
compelling, graphic, illustrations explore "rage, despair and
hope", and are aimed at helping 16-19-year olds plumb the depth of
This proper dystopian edge was picked up by a group of visiting
Japanese artists led by Kaya Hanasaki, an artist
from Fukushima, the area hit by both the tsunami and nuclear
disaster. Artists have been in the forefront of a movement to
challenge the government of Japan to do more about to tackle the
aftermath, and Hanasaki - as a performance artist - has been part
of this activism. For the festival she produced a performance piece
that included a live link with the artist-led Festival Fukushima in
Japan. In typical festival style, this episode managed to survive
an electrical storm and a power cut.
The visual arts were not simply a spectator sport at the
festival. The Greenbelt Art School was back in full swing, hosted
by Kip and Jane Gresham after a year out, with
Greenbelters keen to get stuck into drawing, and craft
Also very much hands-on were Greenbelt's resident artists
Matt Raw and Ellie Doney, from
the east London group Manifold. They took the playful approach to
paradise, using nothing but cardboard and tape, and encouraging
Greenbelters to have a go themselves. Their creations magically
popped up across the site, sometimes as benign attachments to
existing equine sculptures, or as set-piece creations which stood
bravely, before they were got to by the rain, or the over-zealous
At Greenbelt, you should always expect the unexpected. And
The Cardinals certainly fitted that bill, although
the "family-friendly" Playhouse venue was unsuitable for what
became challenging material.
Actors from Stan's Café delivered a play within
a play, with the three cardinal characters and their Muslim stage
manager, staging the Mystery Plays as puppet theatre within the
The gently humorous first half lulled the audience into a false
sense of security, before the second half tackled the paucity of
interfaith relations throughout history: raging wars, burning
fires, and radical terrorism, ultimately destroying paradise.
Peterson Toscano's "Transfigurations" was part
lecture, part performance (Features, 17 August). His subject -
gender variance in the Bible - did need a bit of explanation.
Toscano gave a scholarly and witty introduction to a series of
characters in the Bible, and then acted out what they (might have)
said and done, starting with Old Testament "Judge" Deborah - a
manly woman whom Toscano characterised as Xena: warrior
The centrepiece of the production was a fascinating
study/performance about the significance of the part played by the
bewildering number of eunuchs in the Bible, particularly in the
story of Esther.
The piece was rounded up by an examination of the cross-dressing
"girliness" of Joseph, which was encouraged by his father, Jacob.
Conventional Bible study was never as challenging, engaging and
On Saturday night, the comedian Frank Skinner
finally capitulated to Greenbelt's requests to appear. "You should
always challenge your pre-judices," he told a packed Big Top, over
the torrential rain thundering against the roof ("It's like
King Lear up here.")
Chatty, cheeky ("if my son becomes an Anglican, I figure there's
always one black sheep in every family") and honest about his
faith, he had the audience roaring with laughter throughout.
As a Roman Catholic, he admitted to being "a little frightened
of Christians", but is happy to be a "combatant" for the Church,
and wishes people would make a decision about God: it's not
atheists he has a problem with, but "ignorance and
There were moments, too, of personal revelation. Jesus had to
experience doubt in order to die, Skinner has decided. And in order
to really experience what it means to be human.
It's hard to believe he won't become a regular at Greenbelt.
Everyone he spoke to had been "incredibly friendly and lovely",
that it has made him wonder "if we were a religious country, would
Britain be like Greenbelt?" He even wore a cagoule, "in
A brief and enjoyable look at religious broadcasting was given
through the eyes, and ears, of producers and guests of Radio 2's
Pause for Thought, in TBI Media's "Does God love radio too
. . ?"
It featured former and current producers Michael
Wakelin and Hannah Scott-Joynt, and some
guest contributors, including Garth Hewitt, read
their favourite Thoughts from the past.
Having been informed that religious output on BBC local radio
attracts an average 1.3 million weekly listeners, the panel also
considered the "dos" and "don'ts" of radio, with particular
emphasis on how to make the most of that wonderful broadcasting
opportunity: the three-minute reflection.
Saturday's Greenbelt online TV programmes, (GTV), included, "Is
God . . .", the first of several programmes recorded before a
studio audience, in which a handful of ten-minute propositions were
presented by various speakers.
Lucy Winkett and John
Polkinghorne looked at "Is God a woman?', and "Is God
Scottish?", among others by contributors including Giles
Fraser, Bev Thomas, and Richard
All contributors delivered their arguments with integrity,
always giving fair representation to counter-claims, in an academic
but often light-hearted breezy manner. In between rounds of
technical toing and froing, there were some challenging polemics.
Afterwards, Coles privately suggested it was a "salutary lesson" in
OperaUpClose started life in the Cock Tavern,
London, an intimate venue of 56 seats. Transferring its
award-winning production of La Bohème to the large
grandstand venue, Centaur, was always going to be a challenge. The
singers battled against an over-zealous sound engineer, an acoustic
that lacked any warmth or intimacy, and an audience that chose
mainly to sit up in the balcony rather than on the floor nearer the
The production came into its own during act two, when the group
of bohemians moved off the stage to "Café Momus" amid the audience.
The waitress good-humouredly prevented the theft of a glass of beer
by a thirsty toddler, and the intimacy and wit of the production
broke through. It was a shame that the weather prevented a planned
20-minute rendition in the Jesus Arms later in the evening.
The talent of the young cast was given full range during the
quartet sung by Mimi, Rodolfo, Musetta, and Marcello at the end of
act three. The final act drew the crowd back into the home of the
four bohemians. A tearful stillness held as Mimi and Rodolfo ended
their final duet and Mimi breathed her last.
The pounding bass from the nearby mainstage vibrated through the
tent, intruding on Clean Break's performance of
Dream Pill and yet, somehow, adding to it. The relentless
rhythmic drone created a claustrophobic atmosphere under the
Since its foundation by two women prisoners in 1979, Clean Break
has been using theatre to change lives while sticking to the dual
themes of women and crime. Dream Pill by Rebecca Pritchard
was a harrowing half hour. A duologue between two nine-year-old
Nigerian girls trafficked to the UK for sexual exploitation.
The performances of Susan Wokoma and
Simone James were remarkable. The sparse staging,
simple scripting, stark lighting, and subtle sound cues all played
their part, but these two young actors made this production what it
was. As one audience member put it during the post-show discussion:
"I could see that you were both grown women, but within minutes you
were nine-year-old girls."
Mohammed Ali is a graffiti artist who paints large-scale public
images to inspire communities, often integrating Islamic script and
His work is a vocation, deriving from a strong sense of divine
calling, and he is dedicated to working collaboratively with
communities, faith organisations, disadvantaged groups, and
In "Sacred Street Art: Colouring the concrete jungle", Ali put
his work in a historical context, stretching back to ancient cave
paintings, but distanced himself from street artists who glorify
only themselves by spraying name-tags indiscriminately, and often