To commemorate the 850th anniversary of the murder of Thomas Becket, Scena Mundi is taking TS Eliot’s 1935 verse drama Murder in the Cathedral on a cathedral tour starting at Southwark Cathedral, the last place at which Becket preached before his death.
With their ornate architecture and choral music, cathedrals have the effect of feeling like another world in which time is suspended. The robed priests and women in wimples conjure up images of ghosts of a long vanished, devoutly Roman Catholic England dominated by the power struggle between the Church and the crown.
Eliot’s play is very cerebral, filled with dense theological and philosophical arguments that sometimes feel impenetrable. Cecilia Dorland’s fluid production brings out its strengths, though it remains difficult to become emotionally involved with its characters.
The location is innately theatrical, if not ideal logistically. The acoustics are good, but the absence of raking makes it difficult to see at times – it’s fortunate that this is a play with far more talk than action.
Jasper Britton makes a dignified Thomas Becket, approaching his journey towards martyrdom with calm resignation and quiet pride.
The most striking work, however, comes from the immaculately drilled chorus of the six Women of Canterbury, getting on with their lives and clinging on to faith in higher powers despite their ever-downtrodden status.