BRIDGET FOREMAN pulls a masterstroke in letting us get a good
way into this powerful drama before revealing that a key figure,
the sharp-suited leader of the synagogue, is actually Jairus,
"Abba" to his child, Esther. Like scales falling from the eyes,
everything wondrously begins to make sense.
Developed from her short play, Daughters of the House,
commissioned by Jane Williams and Margaret Sentamu for the 2008
Lambeth Conference, this isn't intended to be a "faithful"
rendering of the Passion story. Anna Gooch's touring set, with its
small, steeply raked stage, has the marks of an icon, and the play
works in the same way as an icon in not seeking accurate
representation but inviting an individual response to the actions
of God. It works beautifully, and has a humanity about it that
Foreman presents Jesus in the context of his life in Capernaum,
where he has an easy familiarity with people and can even turn his
hand to a spot of carpentry when required. So, for Jairus, the
teaching and the miracles are presumptuous, "crazy stuff", and
Jesus's association with women a scandal - in particular, the Mary
Magdalene/woman-taken-in-adultery figure of the pregnant Tovah, and
the outcast cripple who declares herself as invisible as dust to
the Temple worthies.
Kolade Agboke's Jesus is energetic, practical, confident,
charismatic, demonstrating showmanship and masterly good timing
when he heals the cripple. "Unbelievable!" he expostulates when all
Jairus can do in response is splutter, "But it's the sabbath!" When
he speaks a parable, it is unrehearsed, a process of thinking out
loud tailored to the person to whom it is addressed. For Jairus,
therefore, the story is the Prodigal Daughter.
There are moments of high drama: Tovah stripping off the
bindings that had hidden her pregnancy; Jairus distracted at
Esther's death - and images full of association, such as the
spreading of a pure white, lace-edged cloth for a supper of bread
and wine. The last words attributed to Jesus from the cross come in
a deeply moving context that it would be a spoiler to reveal.
It is the Passion story in close-up: intense, intimate even in
the cathedral-like setting of St Mary's, Nottingham. Directed by
Paul Burbridge, all four actors give outstanding performances, with
strong, clear narrative from Ruben Crow as Jairus, Gail Kemp as
Tovah, and Hannah Parker as both the pigtailed Esther and the
crippled woman. Solo recorder music is haunting, and silence is
built into the structure of the play.
Just one thing jarred for me. After the death of Jesus and
before the thought-provoking final scene, the audience is invited
to stand and sing the hymn "When I survey the wondrous Cross". The
scene had been so strong that I wanted at that point just to sit
and reflect. I didn't want to be led into anything. There was a
further invitation to respond afterwards at the foot of the crossof
nails in the south transept, but the hymn was an awkward note in
what was otherwise a piece of perfection.
Inheritance plays at Romsey Abbey tonight, and then tours to
churches in Dorchester-on-Thames, Kettering, Cheam, Gerrards Cross,
Malmesbury, and Derby, closing in West Bridgford on 19 April. For
details, including box offices, see ridinglights.org; or phone