A virgin birth, great parts for everyone and a happy ending ... so why aren't there more good plays about Jesus?

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I was about six when I first wore a towel on my head and a cotton wool beard. It was the last week of term, and that meant the school Nativity play. This week kids up and down the country will be trying to carry myrrh while wearing a cardboard crown. Or turning away Mary and Joseph from the inn. Or putting the Tiny Tears Jesus in the manger for a bed.

I'm not sure my early role as a shepherd taught me a lot that I was able to use in my later playwriting career. But for some of my fellow playwrights it was, it seems, a more formative experience.

Playwright April de Angelis also took the part of a shepherd at a tender age. "I remember the teacher directed the cast to constantly stand in a straight line," she recalls. "I thought: I could stage this so much better."

Writer Stella Feehily began her career playing Mary in her first Nativity play. But when her family moved to southern Ireland, the young newcomer was demoted to the role of angel. "I was very unhappy about that," she recalls. "And when I came to speak as the angel all that would come out was a burp. They never let me play Mary." Feehily made good though and, like de Angelis, became an actress and then playwright.

Given that most of our leading playwrights, directors and actors have at some point appeared in a Nativity play during their formative years, it's surprising more of them haven't been drawn to tell the story of the Nativity, or other aspects of the life of Christ, in their adult work.

"When you grow up in Ireland," says Feehily, "it's so much part of the culture that you don't think about it. I wouldn't think about stepping back from it in that way. I mean I didn't even question the Resurrection until I was 17, despite the best efforts of my brother."...

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