Monday 7 September 2009


Click on the link above to read our Thérèse blog.

Divine Comedy: A Thérèsian Mystery Play will be performed at the Oratory Church of St Aloysius in Oxford on the 30th September, 1st October and 2nd October at 8.00pm. Tickets are £5 each (£3 concessions) and are available through the Oxford Playhouse ( or 01865 305305) as well as the Oratory itself.


The following article by Elizabeth Dodd appeared in the Catholic Herald of 6th September:


St. Thérèse is lying on the sanctuary steps of the Oxford Oratory. It’s a dusky Friday evening and, feverish and hallucinating, the child Thérèse is clearly uncomfortable - until a Carmelite bystander receives inspiration.

‘St. Philip’s cushions! Why don’t we use St. Phillip’s cushions?’

And so the cast of Divine Comedy - written, rehearsed and performed in honour of The Little Flower – breaks up, as a team of nuns and stage-hands go in search of spare kneelers.

The play – a modern take on the medieval Mystery Play - is to be performed by a cast ranging from the parish priest (who takes the role of Thérèse’s father) through to angels (and demons) recruited from local schools. The diverse troupe hope to do more than just revive a traditional devotional art-form: they aim to bring people together to create a living response around the visit of St. Thérèse’s relics to Oxford, and indeed the rest of the country.

“I wanted to do more than just tell the story of Thérèse’s life,” says Leonie Caldecott, who has written the play – one that is, in some senses, a modern rendition of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Fauré’s Requiem underscores the narrative, which brings spiritual themes to life against a backdrop lit by characters as diverse as a ‘time-lady’ known as the Doctor, through to Cardinal Newman and Friedrich Nietzsche. “The most important thing, I think, is to convey to young people at the start of the 21st century who this young saint was, what is her charism. Why is she so relevant to us today?”

I asked Leonie, who has researched and written on Thérèse for over a decade, as well as writing several shorter children’s plays, what you can express about Thérèse in a play that you couldn’t convey in a book or an article. “One of the attractive traits of this saint is that she linked her own life so powerfully and imaginatively to the Gospels. All her life, she sat at the feet of Christ, watching and listening to him with rapt attention. And then she did what all of us ought to do but so often don’t – she allowed her soul to be imbued with his presence, and to be shared with her fellow men and women in the most frank and transparent fashion. So in many ways, using drama – as she herself used it in Carmel, notably in her portrayal St Joan of Arc – is a very natural expression of devotion to her.’

Hence the contemporary setting of the Divine Comedy, with its focus on the spiritual journey of a young man lost in a dark wood, searching for his girlfriend. Updating the moral quandaries of the medieval ‘everyman’, the script grapples with contemporary problems: filtering Church teaching through pop culture references as well as traditional ones. ‘Everyman’ is drawn into the story of Thérèse, experiencing purgatory, hell and heaven in the process. At the end, he has become one of the many souls whose lives the saint has helped to turn around.

Needless to say, Divine Comedy is a complex work to produce: there are conflicting timetables, school terms and work schedules and the logistical tangles inherent in performing within a church. ‘Of course, it's very hard using the church as a theatre - we have to keep on using it for Masses, even on the days of the performances,’ Fr. Daniel Seward, who plays Louis Martin, explains. ‘Some of the scenery is provided by the church itself however, such as the backdrop of the saints. Normally a church is only used for the liturgy, but this is a play with a purpose - St Philip, the founder of the Oratory, used to use art and music as a way of drawing souls to God. Philip put on Musical Oratories that were not quite concerts and not quite services. Divine Comedy fits into this framework: Thérèse is certainly a saint for everyone and we hope that the play will help to make her life accessible to all kinds of different people.’

Then there were the weeks spent sourcing authentic Carmelite habits, finding the space and time to paint the backdrops, working out how to get sound equipment and a lighting rig. Leonie is convinced that Thérèse herself is helping with the production. “Logistical problems which we could never have resolved ourselves have just been sorted, after prayer to her,” she says. “The other saint who has helped me personally is John Paul II, who had a deep understanding of the importance of live theatre as a religious art-form, and used it as such himself. After re-reading his Letter to Artists, I was overwhelmed by the sense that we must do this, no matter how difficult it might be.”

Working as stage manager on the play has brought home to me the spiritual dimension of directing a Mystery Play, which is unlike any other piece of theatre. The script has had to evolve to take actors’ needs and responses into account; the whole process is as much about benefiting the people who are participating as presenting something interesting and entertaining for the audience. Marie Lewin is one of the five actresses playing Thérèse. Responsible for seeing the teenage Thérèse through some of the most difficult parts of her life, Marie portrays the transition from childhood into spiritual adulthood. ‘It is quite hard to become Thérèse,’ Marie acknowledges, ‘I think about how she would act, not how I would. It’s had quite a lot of impact on my spiritual life - because Thérèse was so holy, I really want to be like her!’

The cast hope that an audience watching the play will take away as much from the devotional aspect as they have received. ‘I think that it will really prepare me to see Thérèse again, in October,’ Marie confirms. ‘I hope that the play will make people understand more, as it is a fun way to learn about her. Hopefully it will help other people with their spiritual life, not just those acting in the play!’

Back in the Church, the Carmelites have found some cushions, and the Vierge du Sourire scene can continue, with Thérèse perched on her bed. Cast members not involved in the scene watch as the child Thérèse, played by eight-year old Marie-Thérèse Brown, struggles through Thérèse’s moment of darkness, to express her euphoria at her miraculous vision of Our Lady. It’s strange to think that, in just a few months, it will be Thérèse herself resting in the place currently taken up by our makeshift Les Buissonets.

‘Her relics will be a concrete manifestation of her presence among us in this country,’ Leonie explains. ‘In the same way, living people will be concrete manifestations of our immersion in her story. And that’s fundamentally what the communion of saints is all about: living manifestations of God’s presence, God’s glory, from time immemorial until our own times.”

Divine Comedy: A Thérèsian Mystery Play will be performed at the Oratory Church of St Aloysius in Oxford on the 30th September, 1st October and 2nd October at 8.00pm. Tickets are £5 each (£3 concessions) and are available through the Oxford Playhouse ( or 01865 305305) as well as the Oratory itself.