facebook play-alt chevron-thin-right chevron-thin-left cancel location info chevron-thin-down star-full help-with-circle calendar images mail whatsapp directions_car directions_bike train directions_walk directions_bus close spinner11
Stephen Boxer stars in Written On The Heart, playing at the Duchess theatre (photo: Ellie Kurttz)

Stephen Boxer in Written On The Heart (photo: Ellie Kurttz)

Written On The Heart

First Published 24 April 2012, Last Updated 24 April 2012

Unless you’re an expert on the English Reformation – something that I certainly don’t claim to be – I suggest doing a bit of research before stepping inside the Duchess theatre to see the RSC’s production of Written On The Heart. Thankfully, the former Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral was on hand to enlighten me via the programme notes.

Written for the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, David Edgar’s play draws attention to the importance of the English Reformation in bringing the word of God directly to the people, rather than through the clergy who acted as messengers of God. As well as focusing on the Church of England’s third official English translation of the Christian Bible, Written On The Heart puts emphasis on the Tyndale Bible, which was created 80 years prior to the King James Bible and is believed to be the first English translation taken directly from Greek and Hebrew texts.

The subject of translation is timely, what with Shakespeare’s Globe’s recent launch of the Globe To Globe Festival, which sees all of Shakespeare’s 37 plays translated into 37 languages. But in Written On The Heart, there is only one language, albeit innumerable different versions of it. I’m sure in fact that an entire thesaurus could be derived from the many different Biblical translations featured in Edgar’s play, especially where bladed instruments are concerned.

On the whole it is difficult to comment on the play’s characters, mainly because the majority of its duration involves a group of irate clergymen bickering about whether “penance” is allowed to replace “repentance” and whether “very pleasant” is an acceptable alternative to “delectable.” But when I remember the profound words of my French teacher, who used to say “something is always lost in translation,” I can appreciate their need to quibble over each individual word.

Emerging from the quarrelling, however, are two stand-out performances by RSC veterans Oliver Ford Davies and Stephen Boxer. Boxer’s William Tyndale comes across as the hero of the story after being condemned to death for his humble intentions to share the word of God with the ploughboy, while Ford Davies as Bishop Lancelot Andrewes brings a hint of light-hearted comedy to an otherwise serious production through his wearied groans and mutterings.

The subtle shift in time separating the two deeply troubled characters would have been difficult to decipher if it weren’t for the helpful projections of dates on to the set. The set itself, designed by Francis O’Connor, looked as if a place of worship was lifted in its entirety and placed on to the Duchess’s stage, while further light projections gave the impression of intricate stained glass.

As someone whose historical knowledge doesn’t stretch much further than the wives of Henry VIII, I feel that I left the theatre not quite an expert but certainly more knowledgeable on the subject of the 16th century Church than when I entered.


Sign up

Related articles

If you click through to seat selection (where you'll see either best available or a seating plan), you will be seeing the most up-to-date prices. If this differs from what we've written on the calendar, please bear with us, as those prices will update soon.

We now sell our famous TKTS Booth discounts online here at Official London Theatre.

We are now cancelling all performances up until and including 31 May 2020 to help us process existing bookings whilst we wait for further clarity from the government in terms of when we will be able to reopen.

We are so sorry that in these testing and difficult times you are not able to enjoy the show you have booked for and hope the following helps clarify next steps in respect of your tickets .

There is nothing that you need to do if your performance has been cancelled, but we do ask for your patience.

If you have booked directly with the theatre or show website for an affected performance, please be assured that they will contact you directly to arrange an exchange for a later date, a credit note/voucher or a refund. If you have booked via a ticket agent they will also be in contact with you directly.

We are processing in strict date order of performance, so you are likely to be contacted after the date you were due to go to the theatre. However, we want to reassure you that you will be contacted, and your order will be processed, but please do bear with us.

We’d like to thank everyone who has been patient and kind in dealing with their ticket providers so far and we are sorry that we cannot process your order as quickly as we would like.

Please do not contact your credit card company as that will slow the process down and put an additional burden on our box office and ticket agent teams.

In order for us to serve our audiences the best we can, please do not get in touch with your point of sale if you have booked for performances after 31 May. Please be reassured that if we have to cancel future performances you will be directly contacted by your theatre or ticket provider. Our producers continue to plan for all eventualities dependent on the individual needs of their shows and we will provide further updates on specific shows as and when they become available.

We look forward to welcoming you back into our theatres as soon as we are allowed to resume performances. In the meantime stay safe and healthy.

While theatres are currently closed, various venues and productions are making announcements for their individual shows, including cancellations and rescheduled performances. Please check with the individual shows for details.