By David Edgar
Directed by Greg Doran
Venue: Swan Theatre
Date: Wednesday 25th January 2012
This was a definite improvement on my experience of 20 days ago; not quite enough to warrant a 10/10 rating, but oh so close. There were three factors involved in this change: the first and most influential was our prior knowledge of the play, which meant we could follow the arguments better and appreciate the political exchanges as well as the personal stories. As we suspected, this play does benefit from some advance knowledge of the people and the situation. The second factor was the talk we’d had at the Winter School this afternoon, not only us but the entire group, of course. As a result we were a more responsive audience than before, and that naturally enhanced the experience for us. And finally there were almost certainly some improvements in the performance, but as we were in different seats, and given the effect of the other two factors, I have absolutely no idea what they were.
I did notice some things that I either missed last time around or got wrong. The Yorkshire rant about the constant changes to religious practices was done by the church warden, not the Lady of the manor. Before we visited Tyndale’s cell, there was a short scene at the back showing the priest being blessed by, I assume, the Pope; there was lots of singing and fancy dress. The second half started with the candles on the triangular chandeliers being lit by the choir, who then stood and sang for a bit before the play continued: again, the singing was a bit too dissonant for my taste, but I may have been warming to it. In the Yorkshire scene, I forgot to mention last time that the church warden came back into the church while the clerk and the chaplain were having their discussion, and lurked behind the screens to overhear them. We suspected later on that he may have been the one who betrayed the clerk to the authorities in revenge for his treatment of the windows, amongst other things.
I found the story much more moving this time, with plenty of sniffling opportunities along the way. I understood better the Bishop of Ely’s guilt at having been so harsh to the prisoners he visited, as represented by the Puritan clerk. That scene, of the prison visit, was played out in front of the Bishop, and I got the impression that Tyndale knew about it and forgave the man. The parallel with Tyndale’s own experience has only just become apparent to me; I claim the mercy of the court on account of my increasing years. Or senility. Or both.
The massive amount of exposition didn’t seem so clunky this time around, which helped, and the humour worked just as well if not better. I liked the way they went through some of the Biblical words and expressions that we use today, often disparaging them; ‘beautiful’ and ‘allegory’ are the only two I can remember off hand. It was not only amusing, but also a good way to link the story to the present. The maid’s rant at the end had less of an impact on me this time – may have been the angle we were seeing it from – and I could see in the Bishop of Ely’s discussion with her that he may well have been thinking of the Civil War to come, although I also take it as a reference to all future religious disputes based on rigidity and intolerance.
From today’s talk, I gathered that there were in fact only 47 translators involved in the work; I’m not sure where the 54 mentioned in the play came from, although Steve reckons that was the number they started with, but six years of translation took its toll. Very like.
© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me