Brother Man

BROTHER MAN was inspired by Tzaddik by Monica Ditmas; in fact she encouraged me to write it.  BROTHER MAN is a Passion Play but with a major difference: it tells the story through the lives and experiences of Jesus’s family, his mother, his sister and above all his brother, James.

It often comes as a surprise to people to hear that Jesus had a family, but in fact, if you look for them, there are plenty of references to them in the New Testament. In fact his brother James seems to have led the Christian sect in the period immediately after the Crucifixion. Nor should the idea of a family for Jesus come as any great surprise: why shouldn’t Joseph and Mary have had more children? (and in Joseph’s case, it obviously made sense for him to father at least one child by his wife). However, apart from James, we don’t know the names of any of Jesus’s siblings; nor do we know how many of them there were. From a playwright’s point of view, this offers a great opportunity to explore the impact of Jesus’s life and death through the eyes of those who knew him (ah, but did they?) and loved him – and yet who are largely marginalised in the gospel accounts. In fact at one point the gospels tell how they arrived to see their brother while he was preaching to a large crowd and he refused to see them – or rather, they were free to join the crowd but he would not give them any of his individual time. How, I wonder, might they have felt about that? I don’t think it’s too hard to guess.

So this is the story of a deeply wounded family, who feel rejected by their eldest brother and who find the claims about him very difficult to take. But because this is a family we’re talking about, I also needed to take the story into the past, into Jesus’s childhood. It is this shared experience of childhood that marks one of the biggest differences between our relationship with our siblings and our relationships with our friends, however long we have known them. So this play takes place in two time zones, and alternates between them: Jesus’s childhood and the week of his death. And I think I can claim to be one of the very few writers to start a Passion Play with Jesus in a wrestling match!

In PASSION PLAY I told the familiar story without bringing Jesus on stage. In BROTHER MAN I do bring Jesus on stage, though not in a way that people might expect. Interestingly, this was the part that has divided opinion: some find the scene with Jesus difficult; others have really liked it and found it a major strength of the script.  I’ve reproduced the scene here so you can make up your own minds.

Scene Tasters

MARY:  Jesus. We are your family. You belong with us.

YOUNG JESUS:   No, momma. I belong here. I’ve got things to say, things to explain. And people are listening to me.

MARY:  There’ll be plenty of time for that when you’re older. Jesus, you’re twelve years old. Didn’t anyone ask where your parents were?

JOSEPH:  I’m going to complain. I am going to raise merry hell.

MARY:  Fat lot of good that will do. Come on, we’re going home.

YOUNG JESUS:   Momma, I’ve got to stay here.

JOSEPH:  We’re going home.

YOUNG JESUS:   But I can’t go home now. I’ve got so much more to learn.

MARY:  Jesus, I’m not going to tell you again. Your father and I have been worried out of our wits. James and Rachel have been in tears. We didn’t know what had happened to you. You have caused quite enough trouble. No more of this nonsense. You are coming home now and there’s an end to it. Where are your things?

JOSEPH:  Forget them. He can come as he is.

MARY:  Where are they?

YOUNG JESUS:  They’re in the lodging house.

MARY:  Right. We’ll go there and pick them up and then we’ll go home.

YOUNG JESUS:   Momma, everyone was listening to me.

MARY:  I’m sure they were. Now come on.

YOUNG JESUS:   They were listening to everything I said. They said –

MARY:  Said what?

YOUNG JESUS:   They said I understood the scriptures better than they did.


MARY:  Well, that was very nice of them, I’m sure. Now come along.

YOUNG JESUS:  I don’t want to go home. I want to stay here and start work.

JOSEPH:  Get your things.


JOSEPH:  I am going to give you such a walloping in a minute.

MARY:  Do as your father says, Jesus.

YOUNG JESUS: But it’s my father I’m working for. My real father.


JOSEPH:  What did you say?

MARY:   He didn’t say anything.

JOSEPH:  What did you say?

YOUNG JESUS:   I said I’ve got work to do, poppa. Here in the Temple. For my real father.

JOSEPH:  What do you mean? Your real father? (To MARY) What did he mean?

MARY:  He didn’t mean anything.

YOUNG JESUS:  I have a father in heaven, poppa. My real father.

MARY:  Jesus!

(JOSEPH lets out a roar of rage. He takes his belt and begins to beat YOUNG JESUS with it.)

MARY:  No! Joseph, no! Leave him!

JOSEPH:  I’ll give him real father.

MARY:  Stop it! Stop it!

JOSEPH:  Real father? Real father?

MARY:  Leave him alone, Joseph. He’s only a boy. Jesus, you shouldn’t have spoken to your father like that.

JOSEPH:  You will take that back, boy.

YOUNG JESUS:   I only spoke the truth. Why did you beat me?

JOSEPH:  Who brought you up, boy? I did. Who worked to feed you and clothe you? I did. You would be nothing, nothing, without me. I am your father. The only father you’ve ever had or ever will have. Got that?

YOUNG JESUS:   Poppa, you have been a father to me throughout my life. And I love and honour you for it, as scripture commands. But you have been a father; I need to know my father. That’s why I stayed behind, momma. I think I can find him here.

MARY:   Now stop this. We’re going home. You said yourself you can find God as easily at home as here. We are your parents, and you honour us and you obey us. Is that clear? I said, is that clear?

JAMES:  All right. Now, you sit down, John, and you look at this. (He goes to a drawer and takes out some sheets of paper – a notepad or a small scroll, depending on which period the production is set in) Do you know what this is?

JOHN:  No, I don’t.

JAMES:  Well, I’ll tell you. These are my jottings. Do you have people taking down everything my brother says? Of course you do: you want to keep a record. Well, so do I. You see, believe it or not, John boy, we all take a very keen interest in our brother. We listen out for news of him, what he’s doing, what he’s saying. Very interesting, some of it, isn’t it?

JOHN:   Actually, we all find it inspiring.

JAMES:  Well, good for you, John boy. You be inspired. Do you know how we feel? Do you? I wouldn’t exactly call it inspired. Would you, Becc? Rachel?

RACHEL:  James, you go too far.

JAMES:  Too far, do I? Too far? Listen to this, John boy, see if you find it inspiring. It’s something we heard that Jesus had said. Here we are: “I come to set father against son, brother against brother.” Find that inspiring do you? Maybe you do – you’re not his brother. Or how about this? We really liked this one, we did: “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than he loves me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Not worthy of him, eh? Well, well. Hasn’t he got grand? Or what about that poor chap who wanted to follow my inspiring brother but his father had just died and he wanted to arrange the burial first? Not unreasonable, I’m sure you’ll agree. But my brother didn’t. Oh no – the poor sod had to leave his old dad unburied and follow Mr hoity-toity Jesus up and down the country. What did he do, incidentally? You were there, weren’t you? Did he follow my inspiring brother – or did he do his proper duty to his father, as a son should? So, you see, John boy, I hear things and I note them down. And when I look over them, I see a pattern. It’s very clear. You get all the nice stuff – love your neighbour – he’s welcome to love mine – and all the stuff where I don’t have a clue what he’s on about and neither have you – don’t pretend you have – and then, suddenly, there it is, like a slap in the face. “Forget your family: leave them behind, turn your back on them, rub their faces into the dirt, I’m more important, just come and follow me. NOW!” You don’t believe me? Here they are: look for yourself. I’ve dated each one, so I don’t forget when I heard them. Each one of these is a dagger thrust into the heart of our family. Of his family. So yes, maybe I do forget myself, maybe I am a bit impolite to my uninvited guest, and if so I beg you pardon me. But when you read all these, you know what? I think I have cause. Wouldn’t you say?

REBECCA:   Let’s go. Are you coming?


REBECCA:   We’ll be back for lunch.

JAMES:   Becc, remember what I said: be careful. Jesus’s followers – they’re not lucky.

REBECCA:   I’ll be careful.

MARY:   I am going now. If you are coming, come now.

RACHEL:   Coming, momma.

REBECCA:   Coming.

(Exit MARY, REBECCA and RACHEL. JAMES settles down to some work, facing out at the audience. After a while, behind him, enter JESUS.)

JESUS:  Hello, kid.

JAMES does not turn round until indicated.)

JAMES:   Who is that?

JESUS:   You know who it is.

JAMES:   No. No.

JESUS:   It’s me.

JAMES:   This is a dream.

JESUS:   You don’t look asleep.

JAMES:   Well, this is a surprise.

JESUS:   Is it? You knew this would happen, didn’t you?

JAMES:   You found the house, then? In the end?

JESUS:   I found it. Very nice house. You’ve done well.

JAMES:   We like it.

JESUS:   I’m sorry I couldn’t come earlier. It wouldn’t have worked.

JAMES:   No. No, it wouldn’t. I said you wouldn’t come. They made a complete botch job of killing you, then? The Romans. Remind me not to hire them again.

JESUS:   Oh, they killed me all right. They were very good at it. No mistakes there.

JAMES:   Recommend it, would you? Dying?

JESUS:   Not the way I did it, no. But then we don’t often get much choice in the matter, do we?

JAMES:  This is weird. You’re not here. I’m talking to you, but you’re not here.

JESUS:  Aren’t I?

JAMES:  No. You’re not. You can’t be.

JESUS:  Then it won’t make any difference if you turn round, will it?

JAMES:  I don’t want to turn round.

JESUS:  No. I know you don’t. Because you know I am here.

JAMES:  But you’re not.

JESUS:  Then we’re not talking, are we?

JAMES:  You died! You were dead!

JESUS:  Yes. I know.

(JAMES suddenly turns round)

JESUS:  You see?

JAMES:  You can’t be.

JESUS:  I am.

JAMES:  But how? Are you a ghost?

JESUS:  Can you see through me?


JESUS:  Neither can I.

JAMES:  You’re alive?

JESUS:  I’m alive.

JAMES:  So they didn’t kill you?

JESUS:  Yes, they did.

JAMES:  Then why are you alive?

JESUS:  Do you need a reason?

JAMES:  Yes. I think I do.

JESUS:  The same reason you’re alive. Because I was born.

(JAMES moves over to JESUS)

JAMES:  You’re real. I can feel you.

JESUS:  So are you.

JAMES:  Your wrists –

JESUS:  Do you want to check?

JAMES:  No. No, I believe you. This is mad.

JESUS:  It was very hard for you, wasn’t it? All that waiting?

JAMES:  Now, stop there. I’m only just getting used to you being here. Don’t start the big reconciliation scene just yet.

JESUS:  All right.

JAMES:  All right. All right. You’re here. I don’t understand how or why, but you’re here. All right, I’ll accept that. But why have you come to me?

JESUS:  Because you’re my brother, of course.

JAMES:   Am I?

JESUS:   What do you mean?

JAMES:   Have you forgotten? I haven’t. Who is my brother? Who is my mother?

JESUS:   Ah. Yes. I’m sorry about that. It was necessary. People needed to know me for myself. Just me. Not someone’s brother or someone’s son or someone’s friend. Not even the man from up north, really. They needed to see a man entirely on his own. Family got in the way of that, I’m afraid. That’s why.

JAMES:   We got in the way?

JESUS:   I hurt you, didn’t I?

JAMES:   You seared my heart.

JESUS:   I didn’t mean to. Really I didn’t.

JAMES:   Did you get all our messages?

JESUS:   Yes.

JAMES:   Would it have hurt to reply once or twice?

JESUS:   I’m sorry.

JAMES:   Yes. Well. Sorry doesn’t quite cover it, does it? Did you have to wait till now to come and see us?

JESUS:   Yes.

JAMES:   I should be flattered, then, shouldn’t I? Other people only get visits from living people. How boring is that?

JESUS:   I know it was painful for you.

JAMES:   You don’t know how painful. You can’t know how painful. No-one who hasn’t been rejected by his own brother can know how painful.

JESUS:   You weren’t rejected. None of you was rejected.

JAMES:   Well, that’s how it felt.

JESUS:   Yes. I can see that. I’m sorry. I’ve known rejection too. I know how much it hurts.

JAMES:   This is a dream, isn’t it? This isn’t real.

JESUS:   Do you want to pop outside and check? Everything’s still going on as normal out there.

JAMES:   But I saw you die.

JESUS:   I know. I could see you.

JAMES:   I thought I would die too.

JESUS:   You didn’t reject me, then?

JAMES:   Of course I didn’t. What do you take me for? (Pause) You’re looking well. For someone who –

JESUS:   Who’s dead?

They share a smile.)

JAMES:   But you’re not. Are you?

JESUS:   Not any more.

JAMES:   No. No, I’m sorry, I’m not having this. This is too much. You can’t just wipe it out like that. Expect it all to be happy ever after. It doesn’t work like that.

JESUS:   Go on.

JAMES:   Why couldn’t you have included us? Why did you cut us out? Did you think we wouldn’t understand?

JESUS:   And would you have?

JAMES:   We could have tried. You never gave us the chance.

JESUS:   It wouldn’t have worked. I needed different people around me.

JAMES:   Oh yes. Interesting people. People who worship you. People who’ll follow you wherever you lead them. Did you ever spare a thought for us? Stuck at home, doing the boring work. Keeping the shop, ordering the stock, holding everything together. So you do actually have a home to come back to when you finally stop gadding about and come to your senses. Which I’m not sure you’ve done even now. And what reward do we get?

JESUS:   Did it really mean so much to you?

JAMES:   Of course it did. I love you. We all love you.

JESUS:   I know. That’s why it hurt so much.

JAMES:   You realise that now, do you?

JESUS:   I meant that’s why it hurt me.

JAMES:   Oh.

JESUS:   I missed you, you know. I missed all of you. But you most of all.

JAMES:   Did you now?

JESUS:   Yes. I did.

JAMES:   You could have fooled me.

(But he smiles)

JAMES:   And now here you are.

JESUS:   Here I am.

JAMES:   This changes things, doesn’t it?

JESUS:   ‘Fraid so.

JAMES:   Yes, I thought it would. How, exactly?

JESUS:   Better tell people, don’t you think? Man returns from the Dead. Pretty important, that. They might want to know.

JAMES:   Jesus, I don’t know who you are any more.

JESUS:   I’m the same as I ever was. Only now you can see it. You couldn’t before.

JAMES:   Are you appearing to the others? Right now, as we speak?

JESUS:   You’ll have to ask them.

JAMES:   You’re not a hallucination?

JESUS:   You can’t all have the same hallucination.

JAMES:   No. Right.

JESUS:   I have a job for you.

JAMES:   I’ve got a job. I’ve got a shop to run.

JESUS:   This is bigger.

JAMES:   What do you mean?

JESUS:   I want you to take charge.

JAMES:   Take charge of what?

JESUS:   I have hundreds of followers. There’ll be many more now. I need you to lead them.

JAMES:   Oh no. No no no. No, you don’t.

JESUS:   There’s no-one better.

JAMES:   Here we go again. This is your “Follow me” routine, isn’t it? Drop everything, abandon your family. Follow me. Well, you don’t do that with me.

JESUS:   All right.

JAMES:   I’m not falling for it.

JESUS:   No. Sorry. Shouldn’t have raised it.

JAMES:   Because I’m not one of your groupies. I know you too well.

JESUS:   I know you do.

JAMES:   Well then.

JESUS:   Exactly. Well then. Talk about something else. How’s the shop going?

JAMES:   It’s going well. Thank you.

JESUS:   Good. That’s very good.

(An awkward silence)

JAMES:   So, what do you mean, “in charge”?

JESUS:   I didn’t think you were interested.

JAMES:   I’m not. Not for me. But, I might know someone. What have you got in mind?

JESUS:   This is going to be big. Bigger than any of them realises. I need someone to take charge of them. If you wanted to do it, you’d be ideal.

JAMES:   But I don’t know any theology.

JESUS:   You don’t have to. I’ve got plenty of people for that. I need someone for something else. Someone practical to keep an eye on it all. Someone to plan. Someone to pay bills, recruit new people, write letters – you know the sort of thing. The others will be the preachers – you’ll be the one in charge.

JAMES:   But what about your followers? Can’t one of them do it?

JESUS:   Have you seen them?

JAMES:   I see what you mean.

JESUS:   You’d be ideal.

JAMES:   Would I?

JESUS:   But if you can’t, you can’t.

JAMES:   Jesus, who are you? What is all this?

JESUS:   I’m the man who came back from the dead.

JAMES:   You’re the pathfinder, aren’t you? The man who knows the way?

JESUS:   I am the way.

JAMES:   The way?

JESUS:   The way ahead. The way you want to go.

JAMES:   And you want people to know that?

JESUS:   I think they’ll want to know, don’t you? Wouldn’t you?

JAMES:   It’s not going to be easy. I can see you, but you can’t show yourself to everyone.

JESUS:   That’s why I need you.

JAMES:   To take charge.

JESUS:   Yes.

JAMES:   But I can’t just swan in and say I’m in charge now.

JESUS:   Yes, you can. They’ll accept you. Because I chose you and because you’re my brother. That used to be a disadvantage; now it will give you authority. Use it wisely.

JAMES:   Why can’t you do it?

JESUS:   I won’t be here.

JAMES:   Why? Where are you going?

JESUS:   Away. Quite soon.

JAMES:   But you’ve only just come back.

JESUS:   You don’t need me around. Not if you do things properly.

JAMES:   Take charge, eh?

JESUS:   You’ll be good at it. You’ll enjoy it. Ordering them all around.

JAMES:   You know me too well. The shop, this place?

JESUS:   Leave it.

JAMES:   Rebecca?

JESUS:   She can come with you.

JAMES:   You want us to sell up?

JESUS:   This is a full-time job I’m giving you. You won’t be able to do both.

JAMES:   We’ll need cash. We can’t live on air.

JESUS:   You’ll sort some. Don’t worry. I know you.

JAMES:   Momma?

JESUS:   John will see to her. She likes him. I wanted to free you for this.

JAMES:   Oh, I see. So that’s what you meant – this is your son, this is your mother. I thought you were delirious.

JESUS:   Did momma?

JAMES:   No. I think she understood.

JESUS:   She understands more than she lets on. Well? Will you do it?

JAMES:   Do I get a choice?

JESUS:   Everyone gets a choice. No-one has to do what I ask.

JAMES:   No, they don’t, do they? I don’t have to do it.

JESUS:   So what’s your decision?

JAMES:   Leave all this?

JESUS:   Yes.

JAMES:   We built this up, you know.

JESUS:   Yes. I know.

JAMES:   I’ll need to talk it over with Rebecca.

JESUS:   No, you won’t. You’ve already decided.

JAMES:   How did you know?

JESUS:   I’ve known you all your life.

JAMES:   Of course I will. I’m not going to let you down, am I?

JESUS:   Rebecca will understand: don’t worry.

JAMES:   What do I call you?

JESUS:   The others call me Lord.

JAMES:   Do they, now?

JESUS:   You’ll know what feels right.

JAMES:   So you want me to take charge? Knock ‘em all into shape? Give them a bit of backbone?

JESUS:   Yes.

JAMES:   Starting today, I suppose?

JESUS:   Starting now.

JAMES:   Right. Take charge. Where do I start?

JESUS:   You start with me. Then you can deal with the others.

JAMES:   What do I need to do?

JESUS:   Guess.

JAMES:   I don’t know. Do I have to sign something?

JESUS:   You have to do something. We can’t start till you’ve done it.

JAMES:   What?

JESUS:   You made me do it to you once. It’s your turn now.

JAMES:   You don’t mean –

JESUS:   Yes.

JAMES:   Submit? To you?

JESUS:   Is it so very hard?

JAMES:   Yes. It is. You’re my brother!

JESUS:   Of course.


JAMES:   Becc said that people were calling you the Messiah. Is that right?

JESUS:   They said it, yes.

JAMES:   And are you? The Messiah?

JESUS:   Who do you think I am?

JAMES:   Are you God?

JESUS:   I’m your brother too.

JAMES:   Does that mean I – ? No. No, of course not. Just wondered.

JESUS:   So. What do we do?

JAMES:   You want me to submit to you? (He starts to get down on his knees)

JESUS:   Not like that. James, come here. I’m your brother. I always will be.

(JAMES goes over to JESUS and they hug)

JAMES:   But you’re God too, aren’t you? You always were, weren’t you? That’s what you meant – all that stuff you used to say about your real father.

JESUS:   Will you do it? Will you lead them for me? Will you lead them for God?

JAMES:   Not so fast. I’ll learn to lead them for God. In time. It won’t come overnight, mind, not with me. But I’ll lead them for my brother. I’ll start there. Will that do?

JESUS:   That will do.