If I tell you the three most memorable things about my evening at the theatre seeing David Edgar’s Written on the Heart , it will become immediately apparent that I didn’t quite connect with the play.
The first was that, as I was going to the box office to collect my tickets a couple of hours before curtain up, I walked past Oliver Ford Davies and Steven Boxer, all untidy hair, baggy jeans and crumpled jackets, whom I assume were heading out for a quick walk or bite to eat before they got ready for the show.
It reminded me of the last time I saw Oliver Ford Davies ‘in mufti’, when I sat near him and other members of an Almeida Theatre company on a flight from Moscow to London; I was leaving the city at the end of my employment there, and they had just completed a short run of Chekhov’s Ivanov at the Maly Theatre, the final performance of which I had seen the night before. It’s always felt like a fittingly surreal end to my sojourn in Russia.
The second memorable thing was that much of the ‘action’ of Written on the Heart is set in Ely Place, the former London residence of the Bishop of Ely (played by Oliver F-D). This was oddly coincidental to a conversation I had earlier in the same day. As part of my project to visit hitherto unseen (by me) places in London, I was consulting, with a friend, a book of ’365 things to do in London’. One of these was ‘take a trip to Cambridgeshire’. When I protested that this could hardly count as a London activity, I discovered that there is an argument that Ely Place, just beside Hatton Garden, remains part of the Bishopric of Ely and therefore could be part of Cambridgeshire.
The third thing, is more of a curiosity, and is why did the actor who did a quick change from being the Flemish speaking jailer of Tyndale in one scene, into a Yorkshire accented carpenter in the next, not appear to take a bow at the end of the play? (As I’m too mean to have bought a programme and the RSC website isn’t helpful on this point, I don’t know his name.)
So what of the play? It’s about the project to produce the English language Bible that became The King James Bible. It’s about arguments among a committee of clerics and theologians over semantics, should the word ‘church’ or ‘congregation’ be used, or ‘charity’ or ‘love’? It’s meant to be the charting of a course between Anglicans and Puritans to find something acceptable to them both.
I should have enjoyed it because I like playing with words to find the perfectly apposite one. I should have reflected on the contemporary resonances between the obsessive parsing of vocabulary and the threat of eternal damnation to those who mangle the words of the Lord and their echoes in the present day diktats extremists religious preachers. But I didn’t. It was all far too static, too talky,; there were far too many scenes of men in cassocks standing doing nothing other than shaking rain off their big cloaks and reciting chunks of Scripture at each other.
But, on the other hand, three interesting things did come to mind……