The Passion in Lear
IT WAS still dark when we joined the queue outside the box
office at the National Theatre. We were after tickets for King
Lear, the acclaimed production starring Simon Russell Beale as
the crazed king. All seats had been sold long ago. But, for all its
shows, the National holds back a handful of tickets to be sold on
the day - although for a sell-out such as this you have to be there
before dawn to get one.
We were lucky, and that night we found ourselves in the front
row of the stalls. Russell Beale gave us a great Lear, as
tremendous a performance as Warren Mitchell's, years ago, at the
Long ago, I taught Lear at an international school in
Tanzania. Most of the class - and a different nation was
represented at each desk - had never read a Shakespeare play
before, and, for some, this was the very first English literary
text that they had looked at. But the old wizard had his way.
Shakespeare's "rough magic" worked, and all were swiftly under his
The theatre director Sir Trevor Nunn recently claimed that
Shakespeare is "one hundred times more relevant today than the
Bible". There are bits of the Bible of which that claim is clearly
true - the Levitical ban on eating bats, and Paul's weird views on
women, for example.
But Sir Trevor overstates his case. Both Lear and the story of
Jesus are Passion narratives. Both explore what it takes for us to
live for each other. Both point to the possibility of redemption.
Neither story is privileged over the other; for both are luminous
with the truth at the heart of things.
Reach for the sky
A WEDDING-anniversary gift to me from my wife was a ticket for
the two of us to ascend the Shard. We were blessed by a fine day,
and had breathtaking views across a brace of dioceses. It was
instructive to compare their cathedrals.
Far beneath us, throttled by railway lines and busy roads, was
what appeared to be a tiny chapel. This I took to be Southwark's
mother church. Across the river, proud St Paul's basked in the sun
like a great Behemoth. The two buildings tell very different
stories about God and I know which I prefer.
Of course, the Shard is a temple, too. It is a contemporary
example of what the Bible calls "a high place". High places were
dedicated to idol worship, to the likes of Moloch and his crowd.
The Shard may have more to do with Mammon than Moloch, but it still
suggests a degree of misplaced worship.
Not that we allowed that pious sentiment to spoil our enjoyment
of the views. Nor will it stop us taking a ride to the top of the
planned observation tower i360 once it is finished. It will be 600
feet high, and is soon to soar to the skies on the Brighton
seafront. "Only Brighton's Alice in Wonderland politics
could conceive a folly like this," The Guardian says.
Personally, I'm all for projects shaped by Alice in
Wonderland. The clergy should be encouraged to take more
leaves out of Lewis Carroll's book, and fewer from the latest
FIFTY years ago this month, the Church of England Youth Council
met in conference at Swanwick. The keynote speaker was the late
Frances Wilkinson. In her address, she called for a "theology of
childhood". Although Karl Rahner had spoken of a "Theologie der
Kindheit" a year or two earlier, that turn of phrase, and the
very idea of a theology of childhood, was altogether new to us in
this country. I was not at the conference, but I read about it in
the church press.
I was seized by Wilkinson's appeal, and I rashly decided to try
to rise to her challenge. I thought I would start by searching the
Bible for what it says about children. "That shouldn't take long,"
I told myself - such was my naïvety, and such was the general
assumption in those days that the Bible had little to say about
children. I was quite wrong, of course.
Half a century later, my search continues. Only the other day I
was struck for the first time by the implications of the scriptural
requirement "not to sit down until the child arrives" (1 Samuel
16.11). So I keep looking, although I am delighted that today there
are so many more in the hunt.
WE MET a shepherd, Ivor, on a Welsh hillside recently. He told
us how good a lambing season it has been this year. It was another
story a year ago. The hills were snowbound; the cold was merciless;
and many lambs were lost. For the good shepherd Ivor, those were
His beautiful young collie, Moss, was with him. He spoke
wonderingly of the skill of the dogs that tended his sheep with a
devotion matching his own. Here was a man attuned to the seasons,
to the beasts of the field, and to the whole natural order. It was
a benediction to meet him.
Later, it dawned on me that this was the first conversation I
had ever had with a shepherd. Not that ignorance has prevented me
from going on about shepherds from various pulpits over the
The Revd Dr John Pridmore, a former Rector of Hackney, has
retired to Brighton.