Shadows are all the scenery play needs

Murder in the Cathedral @ Norwich Cathedral

Murder in the Cathedral @ Norwich Cathedral

By CHRISTOPHER SMITH

Soft chanting helps create the scene before the players appear in the chilly presbytery of the cathedral to play out T S Eliot's 1935 version of the murder of Thomas Becket, Henry II's “turbulent priest”.

Though lacking the theatrical verve of French religious drama of the inter-war years and the wicked humour of Jean Anouilh's treatment of the theme in Becket, Murder in the Cathedral still has the power to stir emotions and provoke thought.

Shadows and the cathedral's arches provide all the scenery needed, and, apart from some unpersuasive exits, Robin Hodson's production for the Pilgrim Players copes quite well with the difficulty of focusing attention on action that is presented on a long, narrow, oblong space with the audience in three rows either side.

Slight in physique, yet powerful in speech that reflects intellect, Ralph Yarrow's Thomas is an intriguing figure.

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Complex and in some ways distant, he is both authoritative and doubtful, as distrustful of himself as suspicious of others. Only the reference to the papacy appears out of key with the character we see.

The chorus of women has individuality as well as group identity, and John Bates in particular enjoys giving the knife one more twist when Eliot turns the tables on us at the end.

The blend of Biblical language with everyday speech generally works

well. But the chiming rhymes soon lose their appeal, and some of the more flowery passages sound like rather desperate attempts to add a poetic dimension.

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