WRITTEN ON THE HEART
by David Edgar
Duchess Theatre Catherine Street WC2B 5LA To 21 July 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 35min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 412 4659.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 24 April.
Fascinating exposé of political life behind an established classic.
Miraculously, London’s recently seen two new plays about Christianity, both contrasting the turmoil of the 1530s Reformation and its aftermath with a calmer-seeming ‘present’ of early 17th-century Jacobean England. And both by writers who emerged from 1970s Left Wing drama.
The occasion is the quatercentenary of the King James Bible; an English translation published in 1611, having been ordered by the king and assembled by a committee of bishops. Howard Brenton’s Anne Boleyn makes a livelier ride than David Edgar’s drama. But Edgar highlights the social, cultural and political issues alongside the theological in creating an English Bible.
Edgar shows it wasn’t a wholly new translation. From a Barchester-like quarrel of tetchily comfortable Bishops in 1610 the play shifts to William Tyndale awaiting execution in 1536 for translating the scriptures at all, seeing his work saved by a whisker to influence the 1611 volume.
The dark 1530s are followed by political tensions half a century on, under Elizabeth I, as zest for greater purity in religion battles the beauty of holiness tendency, with its delight in rich ornamentation.
After the interval, Edgar returns to eve-of-publication, showing various factions’ hard-fought battles, mixing the theology and political, over words. Tyndale haunts the deliberations of Bishop Andrewes of Ely, widely viewed as the next Archbishop of Canterbury.
For Lancelot Andrewes it is a matter of conscience more than faction. Oliver Ford Davies shows his inner crises in his prayer, while avoiding open commitment through irony, implying responses through a comical series of vocalised sounds.
This contrasts the enthusiastic certainty Stephen Boxer gives Tyndale; it’s the difference between rebel and establishment. And Edgar implies the next age by introducing a confident Prince Henry (history tells us he will soon die) and his child brother who will become Charles I, beheaded during the next eruption of civil and religious dis-ease.
Those who forbade an English Bible sensed what would happen when people could read and think about its contents. The most subservient voice so far finally gains confidence, anticipating battles to come in this intriguing, enlightening play and Gregory Doran’s richly-acted Royal Shakespeare Company production.
Lancelot Andrewes: Oliver Ford Davies.
George Abbot: Bruce Alexander.
Samuel Ward: Joseph Kloska.
Workman/Churchwarden: Ian Midlane.
John Overall: Jim Hooper.
Laurence Chaderton/Archdeacon: James Hayes.
Richard Thomson: Paul Chahidi.
Sir Henry Saville/Lord: Simon Thorp.
Mary Currer: Jodie McNee.
Young Catholic Priest/Sir John Harington: Mark Quartley.
Prison Keeper/Painter: Youssef Kerkour.
William Tyndale: Stephen Boxer.
Chaplain: Jamie Ballard/from 19 May Paul Chahidi.
Clerk: Daniel Stewart.
Lord’s Wife/Lady Alletta Carey: Annette McLaughlin.
Henry, Prince of Wales: Sam Marks.
William Laud: Paul Chahidi/from 19 MayIan Midlane.
Charles, Duke of York: Edward Bracey/Bailey Pepper/Samuel Stembridge-King.
Director: Gregory Doran.
Designer: Francis O’Connor.
Lighting: Tim Mitchell.
Sound: Jonathan Ruddick.
Music: Paul Englishby.
Music Director: John Woolf.
Text/Voice work: Davis Carey.
Additional movement: Struan Leslie.
Assistant director: Thomas King.