Day 6 – Geese a-layin’

April 19, 2010

As it all comes together, the terrifying enormity of what we’re attempting looms at us.

The trick is to keep breaking it down to bite-sized chunks which can be mastered. Like knowing lines – our own and those spoken by others before and after the lines we speak – and where we come in, and go out.

In this very real sense a theatrical production is a microcosm of life itself – and spiritual work, especially for those who find no comfort in traditional religion.

May the Seal of Solomon, which balances female-male, passive-active, dark-light and all other creative contraries, protect and bless our works this week. So be it.


The Seventh Day

April 18, 2010

ToDay 7: not exactly observing the Orthodox Shabbat, not even the Day of Rest observed by my Anglo-Welsh chapel-going ancestors. Even so…

Today, I have been doing bits of producer work, yet in a relaxed, slightly detached way that doesn’t stress me out.  It’s only a week since my crisis of faith – the confrontation with Personal Demons and the childhood fear of failure, my epiphany in Southwark Cathedral and the blessing of the woman priest.

Since then, I can say that I’m a changed man and with that change the world is changed – just as Canon Jane said during the Service of Light, when she spoke of entering into Christ to repair this damaged world.

We’ll hold on the HALLEJULAHs until Day One is done and we’ll all still alive and shining and our lives changed for the better.

YesterDay 8’s free performance was a little triumph for all of us and has given us confidence for the Big 3 in Southwark Cathedral.

Feel a bit like Nick Clegg, the LibDem leader who came out of nowhere to win outright the pre-election TV debate between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. Yes, we’re doing good but let us never get cocky or careless.

Only when this tale is told anew, and we are all renewed by the healing energies thereby released, in the very heart of Southwark Cathedral, then, ah then…



April 17, 2010

The symbol of eternity, invoked on this Eighth Day in the countdown to the Poet’s longed-for sense of liberation on the morning after all this is done. Today, at least, a part of The Doing was done.

A beautiful cloud-less, plane-less blue sky day. High noon. Our free public rehearsal-performance in The Scoop, our amphitheatre scooped out of the foundations of the London Assembly. Nearly all the adult community cast have made it – their first chance to stagger through the whole play, woth the core cast,  in front of an audience.

With more than 50 people doing a vocal warm-up, our vowels richochetting off the echoing bowl of The Scoop, we quickly draw a crowd, the ranks of curious tourists swelled by the ranks of those who’ve come especially to see  the one free scratch performance of The Southwark Mysteries.

Sarah makes it clear that this is a rehearsal-performance and that she may stop us and ask us to do something again.  She then invites me to introduce the performance.  I begin by giving thanks that for the first time in my life the skies over London are silence. It gets a big round of applause.

The company – professional and community casts do wonders to make sense of this weird apocalyptic story. Some of it is funny, some very moving… The audience is enthralled. When Michelle softened her voice to appeal to Jesus as Mary Magdalene, you could have heard a pin drop.

Everyone really gave of their best. Today was a collective triumph. Thank you all who were part of it, on-stage, back-stage or supporting us in the audience.

We’ve still got those three nights at the Cathedral to make good. Yet verily this Day 8, together, we did good work. Good work was done.



April 16, 2010

Countdown to first night (Day 3) of three once-in-a-decade ritual performances of The Southwark Mysteries in Southwark Cathedral next Thursday 22nd April. All performances are fully booked. If you’d like to see a free rehearsal-performance…

Tomorrow, Saturday 17th at nOOn
at The Scoop, More London
near London Assembly Building, riverside SE1:

FREE OPEN  rehearsal/performance of The Southwark Mysteries
performed by the combined core and community casts
We were there this morning, our intrepid little troupe, for our third day of Mysteries street theatre. Roll of honour: Jennifer, Kim, Susanna, Sarah H, Lizzie, Zoe, Daisy, Irene,  Pete,  Ed, Shaun,  Rowan, Leslie – forgive me if I’ve forgotten anyone – with yours truly fronting the little scratch cabaret in and Ita orchestrating the Sisters of Redcross.
I compere as a cross-between John Crow and John Taylor the Water Poet. Somewhere in there I find myself doing a spot of unlicensed channelling and hear myself speaking of the need to also honour God the Mother. A surprising theological moment for Crow, before, in the shadow of the London Assembly Cucumber,  we get back to the politics. 🙂
We do our classics: The Ballad of Mary Overie, The Goose’s Song.  Today I’m especially encouraging community cast members to step out and perform their own work. And they do – Zoe performs a vivid rhythmic poem exploring her energetic responses to the Mysteries and the Cathedral. Shaun does his Tunneller’s back-story poem. Rainbow Lizzie does hers for the working girls, “inspired by your words”:

I might be a tart, but I got a kind heart
And me dad would’ve been in the Marshalsea
Now I’ve come here to be free
So I took a part in John Crows play
So I could come to the southwark and have my say
All I ever wanted was love
And all I ever got was glove
But now that fella John Crow
Come to help us prostitutes  see
That we could all be free
And you’ll all see we’ll let the love in
and our hearts will run free
Truely this will be a Southwark Mystery

Irene sings: Mercy Now! accompanying herself on autoharp. So haunting and plaintive, opening hearts which the Sisters of Redcross proceed to transfigure By The Grace of Our Lady Mary Overie. And I Am All THe Death And Pain – a massed band of fierce feisty women of all ages – jaws in the audience visibly drop!

And Sarah H (not to be confused with director Sarah D-H) reprises her amazing poem inspired by the ‘female gladiator’ who remains were unearthed by the Roman cemetery off Watling Street, Southwark.  Sarah’s  works the audience really well, has us all chanting Infamy! I asked her permission to post her poem up here and today she gave it, and here it is:

Great Dover Street Woman

Amazon! Infamy!

As old as Christ Jesus
Mercury at my heels
Weary from battle, laid to rest
I cannot speak my secrets
Though all shall be unearthed.
Flint and bone,
Shard on stone.
Eight lamps to light my way.

Amazon! Infamy!

An arena spectacular
Two ladies in leather
Cut and slash. This girl fought well.
‘Respected but not respectable’
My glory earned,
My body burned.
The grace in my disgrace.

Amazon! Infamy!

You ask your questions
That have no answers
Did I choose, was I chosen?
Was I freeborn? Was I slave?
Illicit fun?
My battle won?
Daughter of Rome.
Mystery of Southwark.

We cannot speak our secrets
Though all shall be unearthed.


Awesome! I wound up proceedings with the invocation from The Book of The Magdalene, in which the Cathedral opens its heart to receive her. Some community cast members got quite choked up.

To see Jesus drive our Devils in the community cast rehearsals in the  videos by Princess Lint click here



April 15, 2010

Hard on the heels of the Eleventh Day’s Night’s incredibly disciplined, focused and very moving rehearsal – all credit to Sarah and the crew, and to the core actors and community cast members who are working so well together.

This morning up and out bright and early for the second of the four days of FREE PERFORMANCES at THE SCOOP. This time we had Sarah, Michelle (Goose), Dan (Satan), Charlie (John Crow) and yesterday’s core cast buskers along with some of our community street theatre stalwarts.

We gave an impromptu performance of the entire opening – the four available Tunnellers gave their all! – all the way through to where Satan declares: ‘It is the Day of Doom!’

Sarah and the actors left soon after the first half. For the second, we returned to our scratch programme, intercutting songs and texts from the Mysteries with our participants’ own poems and songs. This time we also had Betty and Pamela, our older ladies who learnt their authority to the women’s chanting of By the Grace and their lovely choral voices to the singing of The Ballad of Mary O.

Sarah H. (a community cast member, Devil) performed her poem about the female gladiator found by the old Roman cemetery in Watling (now Great Dover) Street.  I’ll post it up here if she gives me permission.

We ended again with the cry to ‘Let in’ the outcast and the ritual group toast: ‘To Southwark’ bouncing off the walls of the London Assembly.


The Eleven

April 14, 2010
THIS WEEK FREE at The Scoop, More London
near London Assembly Building, riverside SE1: 12 – 2pm

Wed 14 – Fri 16 April: short excerpts from the play & other works inspired by The Southwark Mysteries, performed by the author and members of the core and community casts.
Sat 17: an open workshop rehearsal/performance of the play

That’s what it says on our website. And, this chilly overcast April morn, that is what we did – our first performance of The Southwark Mysteries “street” outing at the Scoop, a modernist amphitheatre literally “scooped” into the foundation of the London Assembly Building.

We assemble underground in the More London offices. Susannah from the community cast comes in glowing from just having shouted good morning to Mayor Boris and “told him we’re doing The Southwark Mysteries”.

We have core cast members Kai and Caroline, workshop leader Ita and community cast members Shaun, Jennifer, Lizzie, Ivan, Kim, Philippa, Susanna, Leslie and Eric – with Kate, Cecilia and Katie on back-up.

Our intrepid little crew emerges from the Tardis-like door and march in single file over and down into The Scoop, Katie leading the procession, striking the beat on two sticks, John Taylor and Moll Cutpurse, the author briefly reincarnated as John Crow in his 10 year old blue shaman’s coat made by Annie who’s now designed the costume for Charlie’s Crow.

As we wind down the snaking ramp into the pit, we see that our first audience would be a group of  ten of more Islamic women in headscarves, some veiled. They laugh a lot and seem to like our weird little piece of situationist theatre.

For me it was like the old days, when I toured Europe in 1980 with the street-theatre group Sheer Madness, doing Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits.

Kai (JT) and Caroline (Moll) did a barking routine, then we all  struck up The Ballad of Mary Overie. Tunnellers Ivan, Eric, Leslie and Shaun did their tunneller’s song, all decked our in hard hats and heavy-duty yellow-jackets.

Then Shaun bravely stepped forward to perform a poem he’d written himself, inspired by the experience of being a Tunneller in the play:

Dig Tunneller Dig

Start the mornin’ with a full English,
Sausage, bacon, tomato and fried bread,
Good job I’m not squeamish,
Need a full stomach for waking the dead.

Meet the lads for a fag and cup a tea,
Curse about the game last night,
What about that missed penalty,
That ball took flight.

Forgot anniversary gift,
I’m in trouble,
Extra shift,
Need the double bubble.

No-one said anything about bones,
Diggin up the dead ain’t right,
Did you hear those moans,
Gettin’ quite a fright.

Thats odd,
Over there,
Oh my God,
They’re everywhere.

All hell has broken loose,
I guess that’s that,
We disturbed the bones of a goose,
Justice or tit-for-tat.

Magnificent. And Ita led Jennifer, Kim, Philippa, Lizzie and Suzanna in group renditions of By the Grace of Our Lady Mary Overie and I am all the Death and Pain of two thousand years and more – a very powerful expression of the active feminine principle that moves the Mysteries.

And Rainbow Lizzie performed her own poem about being a tart and read aloud her character notes she’d worked on at the last workshop and sang a beautiful version of Michael Jackson’s Earth Song – yes, really!

And we all sang Ferry me Home, then did the closing verses of The Southwark Mysteries with me doing John Crow and The Goose’s lines and hearing my voice bounce off the London Assembly building: “Let in! Let in!”  it suddenly felt like we were some sort of strange radical theatre group, which in a funny way we are.

So then we all went and had a coffee-break, then came back and did it all again.

We came home, did as much producer’s work as we could in the time available, then it was back out to the Wednesday evening rehearsal at Edric Hall, 6-9 pm, pretty much non-stop, everyone working flat out, everyone putting so much into this. Tonight we all shared that buzz of being part of something bigger than any of us.

O yea!


12 for the 12Daysofsouthwarkmysteries

April 13, 2010


(don’t want to er… crow – as the news will only disappoint some, to whom “sorry” – yet to be honest we are pleased)





toDay 13 of Transfiguration

April 12, 2010

After the YesterScare, the hyperstress, the taking up smoking for the afternoon and totally exhausted and reporting to Andy the Chair of our Trustees, who sat me down in the garden and gave me wise counsel, before Katie took me to The Service of Light where I received the blessing from the woman priest and something finally shifted.

Getting it all ship-shape. Gave up smoking. To rehearsal space. Rehearsed God, on Sarah’s insistence just in case we can’t get the person I’m thinking of right now. Hmmm…

See, I  blabbed about my McKellen, our face to face encounter, I blabbed about Spall, I blabbed anout Thompson – not to mention ‘My Name Is…’ – I blab altogether too much. (When I’m not blubbing in church in exhaustion-fuelled epiphanies.)  So, this time I’ll keep schtumm. Let’s see what comes…

Meanwhile, just in case I’m sitting there in the audience in my writer’s suit watching my play,  and ‘God’ is unavailable…

I’m God’s understudy.

Updated the actors on production news. Then…

The Monday Rehearsal, Edric Hall. The stagger through of half the play, with the combined adult casts, fifty-plus people. We had director Sarah and designer Annie, workshop leaders Ollie, Ita, Pat, Di, plus Kate, Cecilia, Katie and I.

After warm-ups with Pat and Ita, we split into groups and disappeared into the various studios off Edric Hall. Sarah, Ollie and Simon worked in the main hall with the Tunnellers, rechoreographing their march; then on Scene 6 in which the hissing leering Devils worked their routines and into 7 where Jesus confronts John Crow.

Ita meanwhile was working with the Doctors and Nurses in the Crucifixion scene. Jenn later texted us: ‘Operating on Jesus was traumatic – and the Let Them See ducking  amazing!’

Di meanwhile worlked with the whores on their characters, encouraging them to find their own names and personal histories, their back-stories.

Annie was measuring and costume-fitting: wonderful sight of Lizzie waltzing around in full medieval goose gear!  And Kate helping Betty and Pamela mark up their scripts – they’d missed out when Sarah had marked and numbered the scenes.

Staggered breaks. Edric Hall, Studio 2 and adjoining rooms all requisitioned for people going through lines, doing vocal warm-ups, developing their storylines – whole place buzzing, very exhilarating.

And er quite… tiring! I is orfe ter bed! 🙂


Day 14 of Atonement – and forgiveness

April 11, 2010

for we know not what we do…

This evening, Katie like a good wife took me to church – Southwark Cathedral, to be precise, for the Service of Light, conducted by a woman priest in the retro-choir, the oldest part, the medieval Church of St Mary Overie.

Candles are lit in the Lady Chapel with its reproduction of the Annunciation:

* Ave Maria, cheia de Gracia… (: as we say in my own funny Christian-Animist church of which we speak no further here – some things are sacred, inviolate and unspoken, even by inveterate bloggers – except to say that here in the Service of Light, in the most feminine part of the Cathedral, is about as close as you get to that in the Anglican church 😉

I blubbered a lot and strove to forgive my enemies – and forgave and let go and healed a whole lot more.  A cantor led us in the singing of simple invocatory phrases: ‘Lord Come Near, Come Near and Stay…’ interwoven with the Canon’s prayers. I sang along with my blubbery snotty nose.

Canon Jane related her short commentary on the reading: when Christ appears to the disciples and Thomas doubts. She speaks about the different times in the crucifixion story. When Judas leaves: it is night. The morning after it is morning, the glorious sunrise of the resurrection revealed directly to Mary Magdalene.

‘Now, it is evening, the hour of the lighting of the lamps… ‘

She says the message is that Christ is with us in all the parts of the day, in the dark as in the light. That the Genesis narrative is an expression of  our profound sense that so much in the world seems wrong, and that when we enter into Christ the world is repaired and restored and our lives restored. When she spoke of gratitude, I know I have been blessed – and open my heart and blub some more. Katie holds my hand.  We’re coming through all this together, and stronger together, seeing each other clearer, listening more.

And do you know, my pagan pals, after the service, I blew my nose and patiently bided my time whilst Canon Jane offered solace in broken Italian to a poor foreigner who was evidently stricken with a grief before which my petty concerns paled into nonentity.

And when he left, went and thanked the priest and received her blessing. When she asked me, I said: John and that I’d written the play that’s happening in the Cathedral. She said: The Mysteries? I said: yes, and I’m proud of them, but it’s also a humbling and a testing time. She said: Of course. Then she blessed me.  And in that blessing something else gave and opened and all was light and love and freedom.

So now, I do give thanks, even to them that do falsely declaim The Goose and her works until they turn blue in the face.

For here, of all places, might I whisper:

By The Grace of Our Lady Mary Overie, let them see…


Thought For The Day 15

April 10, 2010

“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again… Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” (Jesus, aka Rabbi Yeshua, quoted in MATTHEW 7:1-5)

The radical, life-changing, central message of Christ, paraphrased at the climax of The Southwark Mysteries:

PETER                   Lord, if you would but make it clear
How each soul may be named and known.

JESUS                  He that has ears to hear, let him hear:
Then let him judge himself alone.


Tonight I would like to express my gratitude to all the professional cast and crew and to all the many volunteers who are working together so hard to make The Southwark Mysteries happen. It couldn’t happen without you.

I’d also like to publicly honour Katie, co-producer and hand-fast partner, for doing so much invaluable behind the scenes work. She hardly gets a minute away from these demanding Mysteries, and as if administering this once-in-a-decade community drama project wasn’t enough she has to put up with writer/co-producer’s dark nights of the soul.

Thanks, babe, for being true!

May the sun shine on – and in – us all! 🙂


Thought for the Day 15 aka 10/04/2010 #2:

‘Walk tall, walk straight and look the world right in the eye.’
(Val Doonican)