THE Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius Loyola have inspired a new play written to reach an audience alienated by Christianity.
The play, With Full Conviction, will have its première at St Wilfrid's, Bognor Regis, on 20 February and then run on the next two nights at All Saints’, Hove. It is the story of the transformative effect of one person, who exists on the margins of society, on a "socially disadvantaged" man and woman, and the trio’s search for truth. The company behind it have been inspired by the humour of Mystery plays, and the example of small theatre companies that toured during the Second World War.
The writer, Neil MacDonald, hopes that the play will reach "people who are either alienated from church because of a bad experience, or those for whom the conventional way of putting the message has not worked", he said this month. Its message, he said, is that, "Through prayer and good relationships, in the power of the Spirit, we can overcome some of the desperate problems of the world and help many more people."
The company’s fund-raising website — the grant it has secured does not cover salaries — explains that the play "presents the Christian message in a new way: one of life and experience rather than a system of belief. The earliest Church was known as The Way, and the play aims to demonstrate how this understanding can be reclaimed."
Mr MacDonald, who used to chair Churches Together in Bognor Regis, said that his life had been deeply affected by a retreat at St Beuno’s in Wales in 2011, where he undertook the Spiritual Exercises. He hopes to enable others to enjoy the fruits of this experience. At the end of each performance, the audience will be invited to join the cast for a meal and discuss the issues raised by the play. The company also hopes to hold workshops.
The Exercises are influencing rehearsals, too: the cast of three are meditating during them. While explictly "Christian" films and plays could appear "anodyne and two-dimensional", the author hopes "the earthiness of Christianity comes through" his play.