Oxford prepares for Relics visit with play at Oxford Oratory
By: Amanda C Dickie
The relics of St Thérèse will be welcomed to Oxford on Wednesday with a peal of bells from the Anglican church of St Giles, opposite the Oxford Oratory, and a few yards from the Martyrs Memorial at the heart of Protestant Oxford. The church has offered use of its hall and facilities to those visiting the relics at the Oratory church of St Aloysius.
Photographs of Thérèse will be projected outside the church as she arrives. Thérèse of Lisieux wrote eight plays and took the lead in five of these performed as recreation in the Carmel so it was apt that Oxford parishioners decided to stage a theatrical extravaganza in preparation for the visit of her relics to the Oratory.
Performed over three days.,including Thérèse's' Feast on 1 October, all performances were sold out.
Divine Comedy - A Thérèsian Mystery Play, complete with devils and angels locked in battle with twirling banners, and a cast of 55 was written by Leonie Caldecott. Her daughter, Tessa, directed this ambitious project incorporating an updated version of Dante's Divine Comedy and a time travelling female doctor, complete with Dr Who-like scarf, who takes Dan and Bea back to 1873 showing them the life of Thérèse of Lisieux. and her message for today. Devised as a modern version of a mystery play all parts of the church were used. Photographs of Thérèse were illuminated onto the exterior of the church before and after the production.
Professional lighting was on hand from parishioner Ashley Bale of the Oxford Playhouse, whose wife played Thérèse's mother, Zelie Martin and their children took part too.
Parish priest Fr Daniel Seward skilfully played Therese's father with pathos, revealing hidden acting talent He had even grown long side burns for the part. Oratorian Fr Dominic Jacob, was a benevolent Pope Leo XIII, and Fr Richard Duffield played Monsignor Reverony with aplomb. An interesting interjection was the appearance of Cardinal Newman by Fr Jerome Bertram carrying his Apologia. Clare Coggins brought intensity and vibrancy as the older of three actresses playing Therese and conveyed her sense of fun.
A Dominican and a Franciscan played other clergy. A Carmelite nun from Wolverhampton, present on the opening night, said that the second half portrayed life in the Carmel very well and added that her convent had supplied the nuns' habits.
Fr Michael McGoldrick, Discalced Carmelite Superior in this country, thought that the play was a wonderful introduction to Thérèse and said that it would be “great” if it could be reprised in London.
“It was wonderful that all the generations were involved from young children to a lady in her eighties”, he said.
The childrens' matinee performance starred an extra cast member -a dog called Truffle- as the young Thérèse's pet dog and stole the show!