We all think we know the Nativity story.
There’s a donkey ride, a few festive songs and kings handing out gifts to the baby Jesus.
But a Brighton and Hove drama group is promising audiences the real warts-and-all nativity story this Christmas – complete with murder, abortion and rape.
The Soul by the Sea company, which hit the headlines in 2010 with its production The Passion of Christ, will perform its “gritty” Nativity at St Mary’s Church in St James Street, Brighton.
Director James Burke-Dunsmore said: “The various nativity plays around the city are beautiful and moving in their own way but they aren’t true to the scripture.
"I’m not into shocking people at Christmas, I’m just telling the real story.”
Among the scenes set to shock include the aftermath of the announcement of Mary’s pregnancy.
Soul by the Sea committee member Alex Stewart-Clark, who got a sneak peek of rehearsals, described the scene as “suspense filled” and “powerful”.
In it, Joseph disowns Mary fearing she has been sleeping around or raped.
As a result a distraught Mary toys with the prospect of aborting the baby Jesus.
The other scene likely to shock audience members, Mr Stewart-Clark explains, is when Herod decides to murder all the babies.
As a soundtrack of wailing and screaming is played, the soldiers act out stomping on the crying babies.
The main birth scene also promises to reflect the true horrors of childbirth 2,000 years ago, with screams and wailing played out over the audio system.
Mr Burke-Dunsmore said: “I’m really pleased with it. The quality of the acting is fantastic. When Herod appears on stage declaring that he wants all the babies killed, it chills the blood.”
Bill McIlroy, from the Brighton and Hove Humanist Society, described the production as “another gimmick to attract people to the church”.
He said: “It seems they jump at the chance to wheel out the blood and gore. It’s sadly just another gimmick because people aren’t going to church anymore.”
However, local church leaders have jumped to the defence of the production.
Father Ray Blake, from St Mary Magdalen’s Church in Brighton, described the gory production as “a very good idea”.
He added: “The story of the birth of Christ is not for children. It is an adult story with horrific scenes such as King Herod’s men killing babies.
"Anything that helps break away from Santa, tinsel and reindeer is a good thing.”
For tickets for the December 18 to 21 performances, visit: www.soulbythesea.info.
See the latest news headlines from The Argus:
- Thousands raised in one day after death of Alex Maynard from Brighton
- Police hunt man after girl, 14, raped near field in Ovingdean
- Mum quits job to enter competitions full time after winning £250,000 in prizes
- Drugs wizard jailed for developing chemistry lab in Ovingdean says time behind bars was ‘awesome’
- VIDEO: Tragedy feared from planes flying ‘dangerously low’ over Shoreham