Quaker Meeting House
14.30 (run ends 19th Aug)
This two-hander was battling against the odds of an open door to the outside world, meaning those sitting one side of the theatre had to listen hard to overcome the noise from the café and someone having a conversation on their mobile: and, as if that weren’t enough, the sound techie had had to let them down at the last moment and Archbishop Laud had to control the soundtrack as well as play his part – with all that to contend with, it’s impressive that the players gave such a good account of their show!
It’s a simple set-up: Archbishop William Laud, having risen from the lowly clothier’s son to the dizzy heights of the Archbishopric of Canterbury, is in the Tower of London awaiting his execution in the morning on a charge of treason. He is visited by Jenny Geddes, the woman who, according to tradition, threw a milking stool at the minster in Edinburgh’s St Giles’ Cathedral because she objected to the imposition of the Book of Common Prayer on Scotland. Her action was the catalyst for riots, the Wars of the Three Kingdoms (England, Scotland and Ireland) and thus ultimately the English Civil War and the execution of King Charles I. The ensuing conversation reveals how widely-differing are their views of God, religion, the establishment as it existed in the 17th century, the role and status of women, the plight of the poor, and the ‘proper’ way to communicate with the Almighty.
So many interesting points were put forward that at times I felt like saying “could you just stop for a wee while so I can think about what you’ve said”…as an ex-Catholic and now a Quaker who believes in the equality of all people and that God can be addressed without the need for an intermediary, without special ceremony, special clothes or special words, I found myself most often ranged on the side of Jenny Geddes – and the more so since part of her argument was that Scots wanted the freedom to worship in their own way and not have ‘the English way’ imposed and enforced on them. Occasionally I would find myself having sympathy with something Laud said – but then he’d utter another patronising, patriarchal and prejudiced remark and my sympathy would disappear.
Many of the arguments resonate strongly today – the upholding of Establishment and Authority at the expense of the poor and disadvantaged; the denial of basic human rights to all people, regardless of age, social position, income, or gender; differing religious beliefs and the insistence that There Is Only One Right Way And It’s Mine… In the show, Laud and Geddes reach an understanding, an appreciation of each other’s way of looking at things, before Laud is summoned to the block: would that our current world leaders could do the same!
Not an easy show, or a pretty one, or a light and pleasing one – but one well worth seeing, which provides much food for thought.