A 17th century mystery play might at first seem rather outdated for such a forward-thinking venue, if not wholly irrelevant. On the other hand, when the issue of morality appears at the very crux of a rationale behind terrorism and raises its head also in questions of religion-backed censorship, perhaps not. It is really quite an unfashionable thing to stage such an unmistakably Christian play in this secular age but the Arcola’s production has an undeniable charm all of its own, thanks in no small part to an excellent cast and lively direction from experienced hand William Gaskill. Adrian Mitchell – an atheist, by the way – accepted a commission to translate Calderon de la Barca’s verse play in 1984. He opted for contemporary English verse, aiming for the clarity, simplicity, humour and pathos of the original. In this he has succeeded – the script has a lovely unforced rhythm and a pleasing rhyming flow. Some of these rhymes – though very few – were missed by the cast, however, while other end words rely on dialect to succeed. Aoife McMahon’s singing was a little grating – though as the Beggar, her character has some excuse for not being so pleasing to the ear.
While I balk somewhat at the premise of God as the great director and the world as his stage, there is a simple message of respect at the heart of this play that can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of their beliefs. The awakening of the World is a highlight. In her monologue (as World), describing her own natural delights, Wunmi Mosaku displays an assured grasp of the verse and a commanding stage presence; having only just graduated from RADA, she can surely expect to enjoy a successful career as an actress.