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The gospel truth?

PUBLISHED: 13:30 25 September 2008 | UPDATED: 17:26 16 August 2010

Tracing his lineage directly back to God s chosen people , the Israelites, self-styled prophet Elder Shadrock Porter (real name Nicky) is currently presenting a musical celebration of his people s history at the Greenwich Playhouse, writes Mark Campbell.

Tracing his lineage directly back to 'God's chosen people', the Israelites, self-styled prophet Elder Shadrock Porter (real name Nicky) is currently presenting a musical celebration of his people's history at the Greenwich Playhouse, writes Mark Campbell.

Porter is head of the Israelite Nation World Wide Ministries, a religious organization that believes that black Americans are - to quote their website - "the true descendants of Israel".

Such claims are common among cultists and should be taken with a fair degree of scepticism.

In this 90-minute show, performed without an interval, members of the Genesis Academy of Performing Arts (formerly the Israelite Academy of Performing Arts) present a largely imagined 'history' of the ancient Israelites as they are forcibly removed from their homeland to become slaves in the New World.

Whether or not these events are true, one can't help thinking that the aim of Journey - which is told almost entirely through the medium of music and dance - is more to disseminate the group's controversial views than to entertain an audience.

On press night, the 17-strong group of black performers appeared under-rehearsed, but partially made up for this in enthusiasm. I did see one theatregoer walk out halfway through, but whether this was from dissatisfaction at the show, or for some other reason, I couldn't say.

Directed by Porter, with Andrea Anderson providing most of the live music (when it wasn't played in at an ear-splittingly loud volume), the evening was full of vibrant gospel-style songs, each filled with soulful emotion.

Sandy Gocul's bold choreography clearly suited the talents of the performers, but some of the singing was simply too big for this intimate studio venue.

Taking you from ancient Israel to the slave trade of the eighteenth and nineteenth century, this story of a dispossessed people bears all the hallmarks of the Jewish diaspora and makes great play of the moral high ground bestowed on victims of enslavement.

But of course black Africans weren't the only victims of slavery, and in claiming exclusivity about their Biblical lineage, Porter's group are arguably more narrow-minded than they would have us think.

The next production at the Greenwich Playhouse is a double bill consisting of Monster and Mr Kolpert, from 1-12 October.

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