Our knowledge of the events leading up to the birth of Jesus comes predominantly from the gospels within the Bible. The details vary from gospel to gospel, meaning that our understanding of what constitutes the ‘true’ story is sketchy at best. As such, the ‘traditional’ nativity is actually a composite of characters, events and locations, neatly structured and compressed into a tidy story that can be told simply. Nevertheless, even bearing in mind the artistic licence already on display in the ‘traditional’ nativity, it does seem unlikely that a baking competition took place in a nearby inn, and that the winning cake was delivered as a present to baby Jesus. These elements are clearly fictitious, but we hope help to make ‘Bethlehem Bake-Off’ a really engaging, accessible and informative piece of theatre. And as the saying goes, sometimes in baking you need to take a whisk.
At an inn in Bethlehem, a special live edition of the popular television programme, Bethlehem Bake-Off, is about to be filmed (BETHLEHEM BAKE-OFF). The show’s presenters, Joanna and Josiah, welcome viewers to the show, introduce the show’s judges – Lou and Saul - and set off the contestants on their first task – to make some delicious unleavened bread.
As the contestants get cracking, Joanna and Josiah ask some of them - a group of shepherds - what had led them to take part. The shepherds tell the story of their visit by a choir of angels, bringing them news of a very special baby who was to be born in a nearby stable (TALE OF THE SHEPHERDS). The shepherds had run all the way to Bethlehem and arrived early – so early that they could take part in the competition.
The presenters make their way over to three other contestants – the Three Wise Men. Their story is equally peculiar, following a star from the East that has led them all the way to Bethlehem (BETHLEHEM IS A LONG WAY OFF). We see a flashback of their journey along with their entourage.
Back in the inn, it is time for judging. One of the Wise Men, Balthazar, is delighted when he receives a handshake from Saul. Other people’s offerings fall rather flat – literally.
Our presenters introduce a VT reminding us what this special edition of the show is all about – we see Joseph and Mary - on a donkey – as they make their way into Bethlehem (ONWARDS TO BETHLEHEM TOWN).
It is time for the second challenge – a special birthday cake. Saul provides some (un)helpful advice and away the bakers go. Josiah asks the angels what constitutes a perfect cake. They acknowledge that baking isn’t their greatest strength, but that making anything with love will make it taste much better (ADD A LITTLE LOVE INTO YOUR RECIPE).
With five minutes of the challenge remaining, action relocates to the stable. Mary and Joseph are already there. In a manger lies baby Jesus. Gradually the stable fills as first the shepherds and angels, then the Wise Men and production crew enter. The kings offer their presents of gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus. The Angel Gabriel then offers his cake – for which he has won Celestial Baker – to Mary and Joseph, and everyone joins in the celebrations (CHRISTMAS, CHRISTMAS).
Sample Script - Bethlehem Bake-Off
The play has been written with 30 speaking parts, though this could easily be adapted (see p9 of book). There is also plenty to do for a large ensemble. The parts fall roughly into the following groups:
- Presenters and production crew
- Wise Men and their entourage
- The Three Wise Men plus entourage
- Mary, Joseph and the donkey