Cambridge's leading amateur theatre production company

Established 1981

Murder in the Cathedral
by T S Eliot   directed by Madeleine Forrester & Helen McCallum     

The ADC Theatre, Cambridge, April 2019

  1. Managing Director
  2. Managing Director
  3. Managing Director
  4. Managing Director
  5. Managing Director
  6. Managing Director
  7. Managing Director
  8. Managing Director
  9. Managing Director
  10. Managing Director
  11. Managing Director
  12. Managing Director
  13. Managing Director
  14. Managing Director
  15. Managing Director
  16. Managing Director
  17. Managing Director
  18. Managing Director
  19. Managing Director
  20. Managing Director
  21. Managing Director
  22. Managing Director
  23. Managing Director
  24. Managing Director
  25. Managing Director
  26. Managing Director
  27. Managing Director
  28. Managing Director
  29. Managing Director
  30. Managing Director
  31. Managing Director
  32. Managing Director
  33. Managing Director
  34. Managing Director
  35. Managing Director
  36. Managing Director
  37. Managing Director
  38. Managing Director
  39. Managing Director
  40. Managing Director
  41. Managing Director
  42. Managing Director
  43. Managing Director
  44. Managing Director
  45. Managing Director
  46. Managing Director
  47. Managing Director
Murder in the Cathedral

Reviewed by Nick Warburton

Murder in the Cathedral was first produced in 1935 but, in this production at least, it’s clearly a play for our time. It tells of power politics, difficult decisions and motives to be questioned.

According to Stravinsky, Eliot was "not only a great sorcerer of words but (also) the very key keeper of the language." And this is a play dominated by its language. Through the purity and precision of language Eliot both presents complex ideas and expresses mystery. He doesn’t seem particularly interested in stage-craft, though. Fortunately for a rapt first night audience, the directors (Madeleine Forrester and Helen McCallum) had a vision of the play which made it visually stimulating and full of drama. And they served Eliot well by making sure the language could be heard. Everyone spoke with clarity and awareness of the verse, even when they were speaking as a chorus. These days we’re not used to plays with choruses so the Women of Canterbury had a trickier job than most. They were all splendid. This was no characterless crowd but a group of engaged and distinct individuals. What they were witnessing mattered to them.

Another wise decision of the directors was to draw the audience in where they could. Many of the entrances were made through the auditorium, and several speeches were delivered straight out to us. This worked well and certainly involved us, though to me it seemed less appropriate in the scenes between Thomas and the tempters. They were compelling scenes in themselves and skilfully done by a gifted quartet of tempters (Richard Sockett, Jonny Sellin, David Foyle and Gregory Burke) but I would have liked to see Thomas hammered, eyeball to eyeball, by these men. The same four actors returned as the archbishop’s murderers and were just as strong. The scene in which they cheerily justified their crime was both funny and chilling. Becket’s priests (Duncan McCallum, David Sear and George Sigsworth) were wonderfully fussy, bossy and/or frightened, and Jordan White seemed very real as the messenger.

A clever set (by Barry Brown) framed the action between hefty cathedral pillars and gave us a sense of depth through height, by using steps up to the altar. The costumes were perfectly judged and helped to make good pictures. (Tracy James was the costume supervisor.) Imaginative lighting (by Dominic Plunkett) reflected the changing mood of the play, and Ian Favell’s sound design helped to place us in a cold cathedral. The singing of the Cambridge Timeline Choir also led us gently back to the 12th Century before the play opened.

Of course, at the heart of Murder in the Cathedral stands Thomas Becket himself. It’s a monument of a role and a huge challenge for any actor.  I think this is partly due to the fact that Thomas, as Eliot presents him, has great stature but comparatively few human touches. Peter Simmons provided the humanity. This was seen in several places but most clearly when he was reassuring the Women of Canterbury early in the second half. He had gravitas and spoke beautifully. It was a tremendous performance in a heartfelt and gripping production from Bawds.