THE writer and director Jonathan Moore knows how to grab an
audience's attention. Within the first ten minutes of his play
about the founder of the Jesuits, there is a swordfight, a
post-coital dash with a furious father in pursuit, and a wounding
battle. The pace is both the strength and weakness of
Inigo, the story of how St Ignatius of Loyola came to
establish the Society of Jesus.
It is a strength, because the play never drags. Ignatius was
brought up in a blacksmith's family and converted to Christianity
while recovering from a war wound. He found in the life of Jesus
the role-model he had previously sought in the knights of Camelot.
During a pilgrimage, he abandoned the weapons of his youth and
adopted a life of simplicity and service of the poor. He wrote his
Spiritual Exercises, encouraging Christians to imagine
themselves vividly into biblical scenes, which brought him the
attention both of devoted followers and of the Inquisition, in
front of whom he stood trial for heresy eight times.
At the university in Paris, he gathered around him the men who
would become the Society of Jesus. Their hope was to go to
Jerusalem and see out their days in lives of obscurity, serving the
poor. But circumstances took them instead to Rome, where it was
obvious why Ignatius's message that the Church should rid itself of
bureaucracy and wealth brought him enemies, but also an enduring
reputation. It is a terrific story, efficiently presented on a bare
stage by a cast of eight. The trial scenes are particularly taut
The weakness is that, with dozens of characters and so many
short scenes, there is rarely space for ideas to be developed.
Within a few swift lines of dialogue, people have transformative
spiritual experiences or unconvincingly change their world-view.
There is a particular irony in attempting to explain the impact of
tranquil Ignatian meditation in scenes of relentless speed.
At the production's heart is a fine performance by Fayez Bakhsh.
His Ignatius is believably charismatic, and conveys the godliness
that would one day lead to canonisation, but tempered by an
The decision to punctuate the 16th-century action with modern
music is unwise. Bob Dylan singing "Knocking on Heaven's Door" as
Ignatius finds faith is an attempt to underline the play's
contemporary relevance, but actually distracts the audience with
When Pope Francis, himself a Jesuit, is being outspoken on
behalf of reform and rediscovery of the Roman Catholic Church's
mission to the poor, pointing out so assertively the significance
for today's world is unnecessary.
Moore speaks of "the strange providence that . . . Ignatius has
come to Rome once again". His is not a perfect play, but it is a
timely one, and it deserves to be seen.
Inigo continues at the White Bear Theatre, 138 Kennington Park
Road, London SE11, until 28 February. Tickets are available from whitebeartheatre.co.uk;
or phone 0844 8700887.