William Blake (1757-1827) believed in eternity. Appropriate really, as he is now making a spectacular comeback as the star of the show to be staged in the Millennium Dome by the architect Mark Fisher. Eight times a day, every day next year, William Blake's truly startling vision, in which he must have seen the whole world explode and all of its history and all the accumulations fly up into the air and descend in a primeval mud, is going to be re-created with special effects inside the dome.
Blake's passions provide a cracking cast list of tigers, demons and serpents, mythical characters (he gave them sci-fi names of Orc, Urizen and Urthana), Cherubim and Seraphim.
Even God made an appearance in Blake's life, popping in through one of the upstairs windows in his first house in Broad Street. "In the visionary image of William Blake," Peter Ackroyd writes in the first line of his biography of the poet, "there is no birth and no death, no beginning and no end, only the perpetual pilgrimage within time towards eternity..." But they won't be asking Peter Ackroyd to write the script. Blake, represented as a bloke with relevance to an international audience, is action man with sound by Peter Gabriel. Gabriel's "Real World" sound mixes music from all over the world - the former Genesis star has Scottish bagpipes playing reggae, for instance - to pound out "Jerusalem", Blake's hymn to the first factory closure in 1802, a fitting finale to today's post- industrial age. The "Dark Satanic Mills" of "Jerusalem" were the Albion flour mills, the first to be powered by steam, which were close to Blake's house in the Lambeth marsh. Peter Gabriel is more than a songwriter. His interactive CD rom Eve, created with artists and scientists, landed him the commission for the dome show. Eve is an allegory for our times, every bit as powerful as Blake's and equally biblical in content. Paradise in a bluebell wood is lost as the pair trudge through mud flats towards a factory lying on its side. The world becomes polluted. They separate. Epic problems (which can be solved at the click of a mouse) confront them. Paintings and sculptures by the late Helen Chadwick, Yayoi Jusama, Cathy de Monchaux and Nils Udo can be manipulated to get the modern-day Adam and Eve out of their alien world. You can write your own score by using the sounds made by Peter Gabriel and dubbing and mixing them. Deeper into the program, the player gets insights into human relationships. Behavioural scientists, vicars, celebrity psychotherapist Robyn Skinner (who co-wrote Families and How to Survive Them with John Cleese) talk about staying in love. Now Mark Fisher, the British architect who stages shows for such rock acts as the Rolling Stones and U2, will stage the Gabriel version of Blake's life, visions, poetry and paintings. The lighting designer, Patrick Woodruffe, will throw thunderbolts and lightening at the core of the dome, burning arrows and bolts from the blue. Tigers will burn brightly. The world can be seen in a grain of sand, and heaven in a wild flower. Constellations, cosmic energy, the sun and the moon and the stars will be created there. Maybe even the Big Bang. Aged eight, Blake saw his first angel near Dulwich Hill, its "bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars". And there will be a high wire act of an angelic chorus in Fisher's extravaganza. Blake's vertiginous verticals, which he liked to paint or etch, suit the scale and proportion of the dome. A lot of the action takes place overhead. Auditioning for a part in the dome show, performers were asked to bungee jump. Anyone too scared to make a jump didn't get a part. Now the Canadian director of performance theatre, Robert Le Page, will coach them in fire walking, sword swallowing, acrobatics and contortion. He managed all of these circus acts - apart from the sword swallowing - in a play about that crusty old American architect Frank Lloyd Wright at the National Theatre, which illustrated how you don't need a script to keep the narrative going. …