WRITTEN ON THE HEART: David Edgar
RSC, The Swan
Runs: 2h 40m, one interval, in rep to 10 March 2012
Review: Rod Dungate, 9 November 2011
Dense discussion beautifully staged
David Edgar’s play commemorates the translation of the bible into the ‘official’ King James version – the result of years of work by scholars and an activity in which King James was actively involved. Edgar, one of the UK’s foremost political dramatists, goes further in his play. And quite rightly; there was a long process that might broadly be seen as democratisation in the 16th and 17th centuries . . . every man and woman has the right to read the bible in English, do men and women need priests to intercede between them and God?, does a monarch rule by Divine Right? The final destination (nodded at in Edgar’s play) is the eventual plethora of religious movements during the Commonwealth – Puritans, Society of Friends, Muggletonians, Diggers, Ranters and the rest, and the execution of Charles I.
So much for the history lesson. But Edgar endeavours, within the religious framework of the translation of the King James Bible, to explore this rich complexity. And the result is a mightily discursive play, as rich and multi-layered as the history it explores.
But Edgar’s tuned political antennae and his sharp dramatic skills find something dark and disturbing. With wit (greatly aided and abetted by Oliver Ford Davies as Lancelot Andrewes, Bishop of Ely) the minutiae of translations are discussed; questioning David’s love and lamentation for Jonathan, Davies effortlessly raises a laugh with: ‘One sees the argument against ‘delectable’’. Such discussions return and return. But against this we learn that people are being burned chained to stakes for arguments not too far removed from this. Smiles are wiped from our faces.
Such tensions are given flesh in the role of William Tyndale – both in flashback and in ghostly form, ready to dispute with Ely. One of the most beautiful scenes in the play is the long prison scene discussion between Tyndale (Stephen Boxer) and the Young Catholic Priest (Mark Quartley); passionately acted with great clarity and gracefully paced by director Greg Doran.
There are occasions when Edgar’s desire to stimulate debate overtakes his characterisation but this is not massively important in the greater scheme of things.
Not a play, I’m sure, to everyone’s tastes; but certainly to mine.
Lancelot Andrewes: Oliver Ford Davies
George Abbot: Bruce Alexander
Samuel Ward: Joseph Kloska
Workman: Ian Midlane
John Overall: Jim Hooper
Laurence Chaderton: James Hayes
Richard Thomson: Paul Chahidi
Sir Henry Saville: Simon Thorp
Mary Currer: Jodie McNee
Young Catholic Priest: Mark Quartley
Prison Keeper: Youssef Kerkour
William Tyndale: Stephen Boxer
Painter: Youssef Kerkour
Archdeacon: James Hayes
Chaplain: Jamie Ballard
Clerk: Daniel Stewart
Churchwarden: Ian Midlane
Lord: Simon Thorp
Lord’s Wife: Annette McLaughlin
Sir John Harington: Mark Quartley
Henry, Prince of Wales: Sa, Marks
William Laud: Paul Chahidi
Charles, Duke of Your: Hal Hewetson, Christopher James Kingdom, Charlie Waters
Lady Alletta Carey: Annette McLaughlin
Director: Gregory Doran
Designer: Francis O’Connor
Lighting Designed by: Tim Mitchell
Music by: Paul Englishby
Sound Designed by: Jonathan Ruddick
Company Dramaturg: Jeanie O’Hare
Company Text and Voice Work by: David Carey
Company Movement by: Struan Leslie