You might think that a play about the creation of the translation for the King James Bible might not be the stuff of great drama but, when placed in the capable hands of David Edgar, you would be wrong. With Written on the Heart, he has created a taut and fluent play which maps the struggles of those involved in the evolution of this iconic text.
What impresses most about the piece is the way that the human stories of the contributors, their motivations and desires are interwoven into a play that explores the power of language to both control and set free the individual. It is a work of great humanity, warm humour and intellectual honesty.
Following the successes this season of Cardenio and The City Madam, the Royal Shakespeare Company has again delivered a very fine production in the Swan Theatre. Gregory Doran directs with a great deal of clarity and strength of purpose – allowing the individual voices to speak out. The scenes with Tyndale (a powerful performance from Stephen Boxer) are at the emotional heart of the piece and are absolutely compelling.
Doran secures very strong performances from his cast: Oliver Ford Davies gives yet another magisterial interpretation of what could, in lesser hands, have been a very dry character. Other notable contributions come from Jamie Ballard (whose Angelo in the forthcoming Measure for Measure will be much anticipated on the strength of his Chaplain) and Mark Quartley – making his RSC debut – will certainly be someone to watch in future years.
Tim Mitchell has created a stunning lighting design for the production – it almost overshadows the elegant and effective set by Francis O’Connor (which is a thing of beauty itself). As ever, the RSC technical and creative teams have lived up to the high expectations demanded by the company and audiences.
All in all, this is a very impressive piece of work that celebrates the language of the King James Bible whilst also paying homage to the decades of work that went into its creation.
Will it live on after this production? That is harder to say. It is a great contribution to this anniversary year and is an accomplished piece of theatre but will it live as long as the work it commemorates? Maybe not. It is still well worth your attention – yet again, the Swan is outshining the RST.