Sabbath holi-Day 43

March 13, 2010

Remembering – and keeping it holy, so – a day off.

Well, not quite. Email from the Cathedral. One of our community cast members has been in touch, worried that the facts concerning the founding of the Cathedral, as narrated in the first verse of The Ballad of Mary Overie are ‘not correct’.

The Ballad of Mary Overie is sung at the opening of The Southwark Mysteries. It’s like a child’s nursery rhyme, London Bridge Is Falling Down, that fusion of half-remembered history and myth, one of those songs from back in “time out of mind”, a magic song for crossing between worlds:

Mary Overie, her Old Man ran a ferry O
Man so miserly, he thought he’d save a penny O
If he could fool his family that he was dead
Alas poor Mary O
Lady of The Liberty
Goose and Crow

So if this little ditty is causing concerns (as to its precise historical accuracy?) then I need to hit on the head any idea that the community cast is in any way responsible for the script – before they get to debating the theology!

emailed back that there are no ‘facts’ – only a legend, the retelling of which has largely been shaped by the version appearing in The Southwark Mysteries. Mary was an apocryphal saint: the word ‘Overie’ probably deriving from an archaic term meaning: ‘over the river’.

Our supporters at the Cathedral know all this, but they have to field queries and anxieties from many different quarters, so they need to check with me. A cathedral community is a relatively small world, a good medium for chinese whispers.

I do keep reiterating: this is NOT a historical, far less a theological, tract.  It’s a play.

A tract or a polemic seeks to convert the reader to a particular point of view, perhaps even to assert an absolute truth. The audience member discovers the “truth” in a play in the conflict between contrary points of view.

I will keep affirming this truth as self-evident – AND that we’re doing all this ‘by the book’. The play was written more than a decade ago. This revised script has been submitted to Andrew the sub-Dean, who  knows we want to push the boundaries of dramatic performance whilst respecting the sacred space.  The community cast workshops are being run with great care and concentration.  All is proceeding as it should, as agreed, to produce an extraordinary dramatic performance in Southwark Cathedral.

… allow self wry smile at thought that such little backstage dramas are unlikely to have been anticipated even in Forewarned Is Forearmed: The Producer’s Guide to 1,000,000 crises that might arise.

(unless I write the revised edition!)



  1. i like the southwark mysteries because it includes all those who are struggling in there lives , who have not had societies advantages… this play … it seems to me … is kind of about how every one of us can in there own small way help and change, the world .. and each other …that no one is ever in a place of not being able to change there way,,, so if perhaps we all just tried to be good to each other and care … the whole world …could change … it is only luck really that means that i have a home …i could by a very small problem be amongst those who have no home .

    • True, Sarah, there but for the Grace… Yes, let’s keep the faith that the world is changed by our thoughts, words and, especially, deeds. In The Southwark Mysteries we’re all at liberty to know the Divine within, each in our own unique way. Yet it is in our selfless actions, in the way we serve one another and protect those weaker than ourselves, that we are most truly at one with our Divine Humanity.

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