Sunday 31 December 2017

West End Vignette

So... yesterday afternoon, I'm in a West End theatre, waiting for the show to start (this is going to get more interesting, I promise) and the two women in front of me turn round and introduce themselves to me, and to the two people by my side, a mother and her 19 year-old son.  The women are from Washington DC, and are great anglophiles (they're Harry Potter fans, and are very amused when I say that I'm sometimes mistaken for him), the mother and son are from Weybridge and are there as his Christmas present - he's a big musical theatre fan, currently studying at Italia Conti.  She says that he's always been musical - 'He was born that way - it didn't come from me.'

He starts talking about shows he's done, and mentions that he's been Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar.  It turns out that one of the Washington women runs a seminary and the other is an Anglican priest, and they take a photo of themselves with the son, saying that they can't wait to tell people back home that they were in a theatre with Jesus.  (I congratulate him on his recent birthday, and apologise for making such an obvious joke.)  The priest says that, of the people she sees training for the priesthood, a lot come from a theatrical background.  The mother, who's a Catholic, says that when her son had his first communion, she said that he'd make a good priest, but he said 'You know the Golden Rule?  I don't always keep it.'

The priest starts taking about her attitude to religion which is, as you might expect, fairly heterodox ('After all, we're not exactly a traditional married couple.'), and says that she's hoping that she lives long enough to see a Coronation, because there's a bit in it that isn't found in any other ritual, where the Archbishop of Canterbury will hand the Bible to Charles (or whoever) and say 'Here is Wisdom; this is the Royal Law; these are the lively Oracles of God.'

The phrase 'lively oracles' is from Acts 7:38, and according to this woman, is only ever used at the Coronation.  (I don't know if she was right - I tried googling the phrase, but it leads to an evangelistic rabbit hole.)  To her, it sums up the way in which the Bible should be seen - 'It's not history, it's not philosophy, god knows, it isn't science -'  (at this point she looks around, as if saying something forbidden) ' - it's something alive, it changes.'   I debate whether to mention my own atheism, but decide against it.

At this point, the lights go down, and the show starts.  We don't chat much at the interval or after the show, so that's probably the last communication I'll have with any of them.  I can't honestly say that I often get into theological discussions at theatres, and I'm not sure why it particularly happened here - the fact that we were at Hamilton, which is partly about the lively, mutable nature of nationhood, might have had something to do with it.   Art is all about ambiguity and uncertainty, and you might say the same about religion - I once heard a preacher saying at St. Michael's Mount in Cornwall that 'If you enjoy one of Christ's parables, it means you probably don't understand it.', a line I've frequently quoted in discussions of didactic art.  As it stands, I'm just happy that a West End theatre is a place where I can find myself talking about religion with an Anglican priest from Washington and her wife.  Happy New Year.

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