Review: Southwark Mysteries @ Southwark Cathedral

By Lindsey Last edited 104 months ago
Review: Southwark Mysteries @ Southwark Cathedral

The Devil's Band entertain (with the best tunes) outside the Cathedral by SallyB
John Constable's visionary resuscitation of the mystery play for 21st century Southwark opened last night for just its second performance, a decade on. Southwark Cathedral is populated with a plethora historical and imaginative figures; angels, demons, the Goose, Moll Cutpurse, the Water poet, Shakespeare, Cromwell, Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole as Jesus battles Satan for the souls of the residents of London's outlaw borough. Contemporary street prophet "Mad John Crow", Constable's own shamanic alter ego, looks on, by turns baffled, lost and exhilarated. Which is pretty much how we felt, witnessing what feels like a school play meeting 'A Clockwork Orange'.

Carnivalesque elements, song and spectacle kick things off to a good start with the company dispersed around the cathedral to ensure wherever you're sitting you're in the action. The play is rooted in Bankside history and folklore, whilst peppered with contemporary references and humour, e.g. about the Jubilee Line excavations that unearthed Cross Bones burial ground and allegedly disturbed the spirit of the Goose - licensed by the Church as a whore in Southwark yet buried in unconsecrated ground.

The cast is excellent with a particularly good Batman baddie style Satan and a strong community contingent plus a brilliant set of kids, especially endearing as soldiers decked out with colander helmets and baking tray armour. But the Cathedral is a challenging performance space. With seats all around the action, dialogue is inevitably lost, despite best efforts, if the actor isn't looking your way. And the acoustics that make it such a wonderful place for hymn singing can be vexing when you are trying to tune into the highly stylised, cod-medieval script. 90 minutes also feels long, dragging towards the end as Christ trumps Satan - which of course is the way it goes, but we all know the Devil gets the best tunes.

Before the show tonight join a St George's Day vigil at the gates of Cross Bones on Redcross Way, SE1, opposite the Boot and Flogger, just north of the junction with Union Street. Meet 7pm for a 'skeleton service'. Show starts prompt at 7.15pm, doors 6.45pm. Do get there early for best seats. For more info visit or have a look at 100 days of Southwark Mysteries blog

Last Updated 23 April 2010