THE Finborough Theatre has a tiny space and a huge reputation. It frequently revives neglected plays, and one of the writers whose reputation it keeps alive is Emlyn Williams. First seen at the end of the Second World War, his play The Wind of Heaven is receiving its sole professional production since then. Its timing could not be more appropriate. The play is about whether Christian faith can bring a measure of healing to a nation that is broken and divided.
The play is set in a Welsh village immediately after the Crimean War. A decade previously, a catastrophe killed all the village’s children, and since then there have been no births, no one has sung, and no has gone to church. It is set in the manor house of Dilys Parry (Rhiannon Neads), who has lost her husband, her faith, and any meaning to her life during the war.
Into the village comes the exploitative circus-owner Ambrose Ellis (flamboyant Jamie Wilkes). He tours the country seeking “freaks” for his circus, and has been attracted to the village by rumours of a “dyn bach” — a small man who can conjure music from the air around him. He and Mrs Parry recognise in each other “two restless fools, waiting for a miracle when the age of miracles is past”. What they find is a Christ-like boy who is able to heal cholera, change self-centred attitudes, and set people singing again. It transforms them. The village floods with sightseers; hope returns.
The director Will Maynard draws impeccable performances from the cast, notably Louise Breckon-Richards as the child’s loving mother and Melissa Woodbridge as the lover who tempts Ellis away from his new life of Christian service. The simple staging features gorgeous Welsh singing, part of Julian Starr’s rich sound design. Ceci Calf evokes an expansive house and mountainside village with a pile of furniture and some dolls houses, lit by Ryan Joseph Stafford to hint at a spiritual world glowing for those with eyes to see.
To be honest, The Wind of Heaven is not Emlyn Williams’s finest play. Much of the action takes place offstage and is described by people looking through windows, and the main driver of the drama (whether the prospect of wealth and power will lure Ambrose from his new-found faith) never feels momentous enough. But it is fascinating, and it is uplifting. As a parable of a community that has lost its soul finding the wherewithal to face the future, it could not possibly be more timely for this weary nation.
You can safely assume that there won’t be another chance to see it in your lifetime or your children’s. I am also fairly sure that you won’t see the life-enhancing impact of Christian faith portrayed onstage in such an uncynical way for many years. You should go!
The Wind of Heaven runs at the Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10, until 21 December. Tickets from www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk or phone 01223 357851.