All Places that the Eye of Heaven Visits

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Westminster Abbey

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I don’t have any pictures of Westminster Abbey, so you’ll have to imagine it behind the Palace of Westminster…

This is not a show for people who suffer with FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). There is simply no way to catch every one of the performances that happen in Westminster Abbey – instead what you get is a series of close-quarters encounters which depend entirely on what path you chose to take. Every experience you have is intimate, engrossing, and unique.

In case I need to back up a bit. All Places that the Eye of Heaven Visits is a three-way collaboration, between Shakespeare’s Globe, Westminster Abbey, and a troupe of actors led by Mark Rylance. It’s probably interactive, audience-led, emerging, or non-linear, or some other set of creative industry buzzwords. What it means is that as you explore the stunning beauty of the Abbey at night, you are stopped by someone urging you to weep for Troy, or to mourn Julius Caesar. This is theatre which doesn’t just break the fourth wall but actively reaches through it and grabs you by the throat.

It is hard to put into words how eerie it is to have a man* stand by Henry V’s tomb and speak his word – not the brash St Crispin’s Day speech, but that slow, simple meditation on ceremony that comes the night before battle. Or to overhear someone** walk up to a group of teenagers and talk to them of weeping hard enough to dig their own graves as you and they walk on the tombstones of great men from days gone past.

While we looked for old acquaintances in Poet’s Corner*** we were waylaid by Emmanuella Cole begging us not to go to war and by Chioma Ezeh asking us to lend her ten thousand eyes. Mary, Queen of Scots’ tomb was mourned over by Darren Raymond in the words of Mark Anthony. And while we listened to one speech we could hear around us many others – Mat Fraser wooing Lady Anne, Richard III echoing through Henry VII’s chapel – surely an uneasy experience for both actual monarchs.

Over time, there was a growing sense of camaraderie in the audience as we wandered and wondered – catching the eye of strangers in case they were about to hold forth into performance made it unavoidable that you would bond with them when someone else – often completely unexpected – did.

And yes, there was Mark Rylance. He and Beatriz Romilly did Beatrice and Benedick as a lovely double-hander in the choir, declaring their love in the sweetest, saddest, weariest way. Actually, all of the passages chosen – at least, all of the passages I heard – were the sad, solemn kind, as befit the venue. It is, after all, a working church. And then, as we looked at the memorials of Isaac Newton and John Harrison, the greatest Shakespearean actor of the age walked up to us, and interrupted our conversation to give us a speech of the Duke’s from Measure for Measure.

If you’ve seen Mark Rylance in anything, you’ll know his power is in his conversational ways and his beautifully mobile face. Having that at literally arm’s length is incredibly powerful and intimate – impossible to critique in any meaningful way. All I can do is heartily recommend that you try to get tickets for next year, to have your own emotional rollercoaster.


* The wonderful Philip Arditti, so solemn and so earnest.

** Naeem Hayat – he almost made me cry.

*** Yes really – don’t ask…

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