A New St George!

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You might remember my previous blog of some weeks ago when I looked forward to the performance of a new poetic liturgy for England and St George. Well, on the evening of Saturday the 17th of November, The Royal Shakespeare Company performed Redcrosse in magnificent Coventry Cathedral for the Cathedral’s 50th birthday.

I wrote Redcrosse in conjunction with the major contemporary poets Jo Shapcott, Michael Symmons Roberts and Andrew Motion. It was set to music by Grammy-award-winning composer, Tim Garland. The work takes its cue from Edmund Spenser’s whopping and forgotten epic, The Faerie Queene. Spenser remade St George and we, like him, wanted to get beyond the image of a muscle-bound dragon slayer. We tried to imagine someone, anyone — potentially everyone in our diverse society — might get behind.

Our St George is a seeker. He goes wrong and makes mistakes but all the time he remains a hero of desire, someone who wants something more, something better.

Last year Redcrosse was put on in St George’s Chapel, Windsor and Manchester Cathedral. The RSC, and Director Luke Kernaghan, did it even more dramatically. Representing different faces of multicultural England, Ariyon Bakare, Majinder Virk, Mark Holgate and Susie Trayling enacted an absorbing quest for salvation. The music was performed with passionate intensity by Acoustic Triangle and the Choir of Royal Holloway. A fifth actor, Sandra Duncan, drew the audience in to a shared poetic quest for a better life in a better England.

The performance ended with a moving coup de theatre when Ariyon Bakare was robed and armed as St George. He then slowly walked the length of the Cathedral, as if out into the world, while the Choir sang a wistful ‘Jerusalem’ out of sight. I’ll never forget it!

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Ewan Fernie is Chair and Professor of Shakespeare Studies at the Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham. His books include critical and creative works and he is General Editor (with Simon Palfrey) of the provocative Shakespeare Now! series.

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