Sunday, 19 February 2012
Drained by drama
I've just returned from a three-day holiday with a friend in Stratford-on-Avon. One of the two plays we saw was "Written on the Heart," a new work by David Edgar which explores the religious controversies surrounding the writing of the King James Bible, whose quatercentenary was celebrated last year. It was gripping stuff: a play of ideas. Two scenes stick in my mind especially. The first depicted William Tyndale, a champion of the Reformation, who translated the New Testament and the Pentateuch into English in the 1520s and 1530s. We witness him speaking to a young Catholic priest in his cell in Flanders shortly before his execution for heresy in 1536. He speaks with engaging missionary fervour about his desire to let every English "plough boy" discover the riches of the Bible. The second is set in a church in Yorkshire in 1586. The Queen's officers, motivated by puritanical zeal, have arrived to deface the statues and smash the stained-glass depiction of saints. The local Lord enters and draws his sword to protect these artifacts in the church of which he is patron. In the ensuing dialogue he realises that he can do nothing to prevent the vandalism - such action would be judged treasonable. A worker climbs a ladder and we hear a window being smashed off-stage. I shuddered and felt very angry, the impotence of the Lord reflecting my own sense of impotence at that moment. The play, like all good drama, invited me to explore my own emotional responses and so to see reality more in the round. I felt thoroughly drained at the end of it!