Murder in the Cathedral by T.S, Eliot. Southwark Cathedral 12 & 13 November 2019 & on tour. 3***. William Russell.

Murder in the Cathedral
By T S Eliot
Southwark Cathedral, London Bridge, London SE1 9DA. 4, 5, 12 & 13 November 2019.
Christ Church Cathedra, Oxford – 8 & 9 November 2019.
Guildford Cathedral 14 November 2019.
Runs 2 hr No interval.
TICKETS: 01206 573 948
Review: William Russell 5 November.

The majestic performance by Jasper Britton as Thomas A Beckett makes this handsome production of Eliot’s formidable play well worth catching. So why three stars? The quality of the piece is not in doubt. The setting in Southwark is undeniably handsome and since it was here that Beckett preached his last sermon before his murder there is a certain appropriateness to it all. It should be a four star staging at the very least because the stature of the play itself is not in doubt.
But Southwark’s acoustics are very tricky and while the cast, which is miked, do their best a lot of what is said simply does not come across. The exception is Britton, a fine classical actor, and a model of clarity. Why this should be so is hard to say – possibly he simply enunciates better, perhaps he speaks a little more slowly. It is not because the rest of the cast are not impressive – Pip Brignell as the second Tempter and Knight rises to the demands of his explanation for their actions at the end with commendable clarity.
The women of Canterbury fare worst. The timbre of their voices means their words simply come over as noise a lot of the time – listen hard and you just about get the sense of what they are saying, but the word are what matter in Eliot and miss them and you lose far too much. I was early and caught Evensong and the choir came across beautifully – somehow that religious echo, which so distorted Eliot, enhanced the singing. Maybe the production will fare better in its other venues. Part of the problem at Southwark was that the audience filled the nave and the action before the choir was miles away – but realigning the Cathedral seating so that the audience surrounded the action is probably a massive operation and impossible to undertake. It might, however, have helped.
Director Cecilia Dorland has marshalled her cast well, the eruptions down the nave work well the clatter of the knights is indeed ominous – and the women of Canterbury singing as they progress down the side aisles sound glorious, while the final confrontation between Beckett and the knights when they defend their decision to kill him is chilling.
Beckett seems to have determined his own fate, a man who sought martyrdom when he might well have evaded his killers – but he secured his place in history, they vanished from the scene and what became of them is not known. In the end it is great Britton delivering that mid play Christmas sermon impeccably, one of those spellbinding moments that sometimes happen in drama, that marks this evening as memorable, and it is a performance really not to be missed.
Jasper Britton: Thomas Beckett.
Clare Brice, Anna Buckland, Faye Maugham: Chorus.
Stephanie Ward, Fifi Russell, Bronwen Cunliffe: A. Chorus.
Rupert Bates: First Tempter, First Knight.
Pip Brignall: Second Tempter/Second Knight.
David Keogh: Third Tempter/This Knight.
David Shelley: Fourth Tempter/Fourth Knight.
Brent Bouldin: First Priest.
Jake Dove: Second Priest.
James Keningale: Third Priest.
Isaac Deayton: Messenger/ Ensemble.

Director: Cecilia Dorland.
Design: Ilona Dearden.
Costume Design: Claire Nicolas.
Chorus Voice & Movement: Clare Brice & Faye Maugham.
Singing: Tom Akeley.
Musical Composition & Arrangements: jean-Philippe Martinez.
Lighting Design: Andrew Ellis.
Production Photography: Richard Hubert Smith.

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