Written for the Church Times
“I HAVE always thought that the theatre is a kind of surrogate religion,” The Guardian’s longest-standing theatre critic, Michael Billington, says. “It has its disciples and its adherents.” He’s laughing, but we both know that there is some truth in this.
Western theatre is rooted in the miracle and morality plays of the 13th century; so religion and the stage have long been entwined. Billington, perhaps one of theatre’s most devoted disciples, is not alone in seeing parallels between the rituals and roles of church and theatre.
For the new incoming artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse, in Covent Garden, London, Josie Rourke, her love of theatre was fuelled by her Roman Catholic upbringing. “[It] is born from hours and hours spent in church. . . I read in church as a child, and the act of reading out loud and listening to others read out loud profoundly influenced me.” Her journey into storytelling began with perhaps the greatest story of all, that in the Bible.
This influence works both ways; some find that their love of theatre develops into an appreciation of the rites of faith. This was certainly the case for my father, who started out training as a theatre director and ended up as the Bishop of Hertford.