St James Church, Muswell Hill
For many years, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress was the second most widely-read book in the Western world – after the Bible. Written as a dream narrative by the imprisoned author, its allegorical message of trial, perseverance and redemption has inspired others in their own faith for generations.
This ambitious, £35,000 production was the work of Dei Artistry, St James Church’s creative arts department, led by the dynamic Brazilian-born curate Peterson Feital. With professional cast and crew of an impressive pedigree, Pilgrim’s Progress is the first in a series of exciting projects aiming to reach out and draw in the wider London community.
Reviving the 350-year-old tale for a modern family audience is no easy feat – but once we’re herded cattle-like into the church, given ‘passports’ and ‘burdens’ to hang round our necks, it’s an easy leap from rainy Muswell Hill into Dreamworld, the starting point of our theatrical journey.
Borrowing cleverly from Shakespeare’s own famous Dream, Claire Foster’s script sets the story in its context, the subconscious, using brilliantly executed music and physical theatre from a troupe of eerie ‘dream mechanicals’. The young, talented cast of six all share the spotlight, playing multiple roles and leaping deftly from humour to despair and back, always with touching sincerity.
With the actors and helpers promenading in character from the very beginning, even making it to our seats becomes a small pilgrimage (but the shy can rest assured that they won’t be dragged up on stage to perform).
St James’ glorious architecture is used to full effect, atmospherically lit with seating either side of a central catwalk. During the interval the church becomes the city of Vanity Fair, full of temptations and distractions, and the Celestial City is reached with a triumphant gospel chorus to send us out joyfully into the night.
It’s fair to say that if you were unfamiliar with the book, you might have struggled to follow all the details. But the spirit of the story shines through the performances, and the message sits beautifully in its surroundings. If you’re not a north Londoner, it’s definitely worth a little pilgrimage to future productions from this talented crew.
Lauren Bravo is a journalist and writer based in London