Thursday, April 25, 2024
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Murder in the Cathedral review: an exploration of temptation

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Paul Kennedy as Archbishop Thomas Becket in Artes Christi’s current production of Murder in the Cathedral. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

By Fr Josh Miechels

A hidden gem is soon to finish in Sydney.  Artes Christi’s theatrical production of TS Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral directed by Donald Macdonald is currently being performed in Surry Hills and it is an evening well-spent.

One of the elements particular to this production is its heightened transcendentality. Set designer Chris Wolter’s brilliant integration of Canterbury Cathedral’s artistic motifs with his use of the distinctive depth and height of the space draws theatre-goers into the performance in an almost anamnetic way – one feels more and more that one is really there. The dynamic and surprising presence of Trudi Scremin’s banners underline both the date – and the gravity of the shifting drama. They help underline another point of the spatial depths: the depth of the complex of layers which form part of the situation Becket finds himself in.  This can be said most of all about the silently looming high altar in the background: the abiding presence of God himself, and of Christ’s sacrifice, which form the background to the movement of Becket’s mind.

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It is of course Paul Kennedy’s tormented Becket who forms the axis around which the play turns.   Kennedy proves a believable Archbishop of Canterbury: not a few hands in the audience twitched in habit as he invoked the Catholic Sign of the Cross twice in his sermon. Kennedy’s passion and variety of frowns serve to make present the previous devil-may-care hedonist who however has now clearly given way to a man who knows he must render account for his stewardship.  For Murder in the Cathedral is above all an entree into the tortured yet serene mind of Thomas.

It is also an exploration of the psychology of motivation and temptation. As a confessor myself, I found the appearance of each of the tempters – initially attractive and gleeful, but each one proven small and bitter in the end – authentic and thought-provoking about the subtlety of evil. This exploration continues with the miserable self-justifying soliloquies of the four knights – the murderers, and stand-ins for a Mob Mentality – toward the end of the production.

In times where we witness the continued increase of mob-pushed assassination online, the canonisation of Oscar Romero – himself an archbishop murdered at the altar – and the strikes against religious freedom in Australia, this production can hardly prove more contemporary. I would commend it to anyone for a beautiful and thought-provoking night out.

Seats are still available for shows this week but bookings are essential. Book online at


Fr Josh Miechels is a priest of the Emmanuel Community for the Archdiocese of Sydney and Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of the Rosary Parish, Fairfield.

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