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Diary: Glyn Paflin

15 July 2022

Katie Edwards

Richard Holt and Ailsa Joy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Richard Holt and Ailsa Joy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Bard and hollyhocks

WHEN I was at school, Bottom was definitely a weaver; but in Sara Aniqah Malik’s free adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he is a “mature student” of the Athens Academy, a musical-theatre nerd, and a glebe-club member who is going to compete in the “Regionals”.

The 1960s American high-school vibe of Malik’s bubbly production, in the Actors’ Church, St Paul’s, Covent Garden, and its secluded garden with soaring hollyhocks, admirably suited a warm July evening and an audience mainly of twenty-somethings, some of whom were up for participation, when I attended on the press night last week.

Malik had taken liberties with Shakespeare’s comedy, but it made as much sense as it ever did at a merry pace. The engaging young actors were clearly audible and bursting with energy as the story unfolded outside the west door, in church, in the garden, and then back in church for the mechanicals’ unintentionally comic tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe. Yes, Bottom (Richard Holt), as Pyramus, did take a long time to die.

It was a small cast, mostly doubling parts. Zena Carswell, as Helena, Hippolyta, and Quince, and Freddy Elletson, as Lysander and Snout (and, therefore, Thisbe), had the greatest opportunity to show their range, and made the most of it.

Melissa Parker as Titiania and Hermia was moving — particularly when, in an anti-chauvinist tweak of the story, she was unable to be reconciled with the jealous Oberon (Isambard Rawbone, just wow) after he had made her look such a fool. Ricky Oakley played the lover and the oaf with skill; and Ailsa Joy held it all together as a charismatic Puck.

Iris Theatre have been staging these summer plays at St Paul’s, for the mutual advantage of church and stage, since 2012, though the Rector, the Revd Simon Grigg, tells me that the association in fact goes back to a production of Murder in the Cathedral a few years earlier.

Long may it continue, after the disastrous forced interval of the pandemic, which has made this a make-or-break year. That, sadly, won’t turn out to be a dream, but with a glass of “Bottom’s Bramble” from the bar at St Paul’s, and a little escapism in the garden, it can, at least, seem to have been so, for one enchanted evening.

Until 13 August. Phone 020 7240 0344. iristheatre.com

Sojourner in Ireland

THOUGH a frequent visitor to Norwich, I doubt whether I could find St George’s, Colegate, without looking it up. Famously, of course, Norwich is many-churched.

But an Anglican church in west Cork, in coastal south-west Ireland, would be in an altogether different league. I might need a guide, such as Canon Hilary Wakeman — who “blew in” from her living in distant Norfolk to be that 1990s new thing, a woman rector, before even the Celtic Tiger, let alone Queen Elizabeth II, had come to tea in the Republic.

A cassock-alb at holy communion was a bold innovation: it was what “they”, the Roman Catholic clergy, wore; but, before long, Canon Wakeman had introduced wafer bread and was tolling the bell à la the Angelus.

If she visited the parishioners regularly, the Bishop assured her, they would forgive her everything — if she didn’t, nothing; and thus the pastoral visiting began.

“In the farming community it is always into the kitchen that I am invited,” she noted. No matter how big the room, all would sit on chairs backed up against the walls, “upright, knees together, hands loosely linked. This manner of socialising must surely have come down from the eighteenth century.”

A Different World; An English vicar in west Cork* is not a memoir, but a diary of that first year from spring 1996, when the author hoped that the corners would be knocked off her English accent and syntax.

As well as a family wedding, the climax of the book, there are drownings, a fatal road accident, and even murder: that of the French TV producer Sophie Toscan de Plantier, which froze the Christmas carols on the congregation’s lips. The French convicted a man, but have been unable to extradite him.

Drawings and 40 colour photos add to this account by an outsider, written with a journalistic aplomb that must derive from having edited two diocesan publications. And she reminds me of The Church of Ireland Gazette as I remember it then, an under-resourced paper that didn’t over-strain its readers with news. Now back in Norwich, Canon Wakeman pays tribute to the Gazette’s transformation into a “lively and colourful” publication.
*The Liffey Press, £15.95 (Church Times Bookshop £14.36); 978-1-8383593-5-5

Tiny Bibles

WE ARE inching closer to solving the mystery of the miniature Bible in Leeds (News, 13 May). After our story, Prebendary Desmond Tillyer, writing from north-west London, told us that he had one, too: “an identical copy of this small Bible published by Oxford University Press.

“Mine has a chain to a chained miniature lectern plus the original magnifying glass tucked into a pocket on the inside of the front cover. Mine came from Norfolk.”
But he could shed no further light.

The Revd Donald Lugg, of Whitstable, has had one, too, for more than 50 years. “I can’t now remember who gave it to me, but somehow seem to remember that at one time he had been associated with what was then known as The British and Foreign Bible Society.” This may be the vital clue.

Clearly, no magnifying glass came with Mr Lugg’s example, because he has used it to “illustrate that the whole point of having a Bible is to read it, not just to stick it on a bookshelf or table for decoration, because the print is too small to read”.

It is good to know that it has come in useful, though. And, let’s face it, a miniature Bible isn’t going to be worth much to the recyclers.

Caught on camera

TWO books on ritual from different publishers have arrived on my desk together; but delight may be muted in the sacristy. They are more for Barbara Pym’s anthropologists than for Compton Mackenzie’s fervid youths.

One is Harvey Whitehouse’s The Ritual Animal: Imitation and cohesion in the evolution of social complexity (Oxford, £25 (Church Times Bookshop £22.50); 978-0-19-964636-4). The other is Dimitris Xygalatas’s Ritual: How seemingly senseless acts make life worth living (Profile, £20 (Church Times Bookshop £18); 978-1-78816-102-2).

The latter is the lighter read. It is up to date enough to take as an example, in a chapter on “Order”, the case of Fr Matthew Hood, in Utica, Michigan, who in 2020 watched a family video and, thanks to this and subsequent enquiries, learnt that the wrong formula, “we baptise you,” had been used, and, therefore, had invalidated not only his own baptism (the Vatican was consulted), but his priesthood, with a snowball effect — and the irony that it was his baptisms of others, using the correct formula, which were his only valid sacramental ministry. Many people then had to be contacted.

It underlines the point that ritual isn’t just what you do: it’s what you say . . . and what you stream.

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Thu 20 Apr @ 16:08
The Archbishop of Canterbury has received the specially commissioned King James Bible that will be presented to Kin… https://t.co/u8LMnSFcfV

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