Review: Murder in the Cathedral

Written by T.S. Eliot, 1935

Directed by Vicky Coo

Produced by Nicholas Harrison and Daniel Halpern

The King’s Theatre Society’s kick off of the season with Murder in the Cathedral is a great choice to introduce new students to what King’s theatre is all about. The goal of this production is to leave the audience questioning “the complexities of the notion of altruism,” says Father Dr. Gary Thorne. 

Using traditional Greek theatre conventions elegantly combined with Christian liturgy, the cast and crew effectively portray T.S. Eliot’s spiritual and ethical journey of Murder in the Cathedral.

Unlike most KTS productions, this show is suitably performed in the King’s Chapel. This choice of staging enhances the realism and immerses the audience within the story. I liked the choice of candle lighting and that it begins in darkness, the candles gradually lit as the chorus enter and spread throughout the space. The synchronized choral arrangements were a direct call back to Greek chorus staging and were an effective choice for this show. Having the chorus spread through the space, in between the audience, blurred the line of the fourth wall between audience and performers. The more modern convention of having the chorus sometimes speak in unison and sometimes individually created an eerie and realistic effect, their voices popping up around the room, making the audience feel as though they are part of the chorus as well. Although some of the choral speaking was slightly out of synchronization, the erie nature of multiple voices filling the space was nonetheless an effective choice in establishing the tone and setting for the production.

It’s lovely to see such a large group of students working together to bring such a production to life. The KTS never ceases to impress me with their professionalism in staging a production. This is a well-rounded showcase of talent; the singing is beautiful, and the actors were committed to their characters throughout the entire show. I liked that the accents were consistent, not distracting, and the words still completely clear and enunciated, even when breathier or whispering. I was especially impressed that the chorus silently sat through what looked to be rather uncomfortable positions, completely undistracting, and yet completely captivating at just the right times. The blocking made the most effective use of the space; most of the action taking place through the centre of the Chapel, with some key moments occurring at the altar.

In terms of costuming, I think KTS does the best they can with what they have access to. As this play is set in 1170, several choices are not the most accurate and I did find them distracting compared to the otherwise fluid performance and staging. The colour scheme of the chorus unifies them and regardless if the pieces are not historically accurate, the choices blend together. The costumes of the Tempters in particular lacked a certain harmony; the first Tempter’s golden cloak is jarring compared to the green tunic; although I get the sense of wealth and opulence that is supposed to be communicated, the anachronistic purse is also distracting. The second Tempter’s cloak made me think of Game of Thrones. Some kind of wrap or blanket, if available, for both characters instead of the cloaks would create a more fluid appearance of the scene. The final, unexpected, Tempter’s costume is fine. A veil to cover the hair may be more effective than the long cloak, which could be given to either the first or second in lieu of theirs, if any of them must have one at all. The main thing that stuck out to me about the fourth tempter was not the costume so much as the torch wrapped in cloth. I think I understand that the flame is supposed to be big and dramatic, though it looks like a firework and I half expected it to start sparking. A pillar candle would still be dramatic, while less alarming and out of place. Other than these main notes, the costumes achieved their intended purpose. The Priests looked authentic, and their Christmas robes were especially lovely. The change in the final act into the white robes need only be checked over to ensure they hang properly and are not uneven at the back.

Overall, I enjoyed watching this play and think that the cast and crew did a lovely job of bringing T.S. Eliot’s story to life. It was clear to see when the audience became gripped by the story; on the edges of their seats and their heads following the action and various voices around the room, particularly in the final act. Audience member Angus said that he “loved the twist at the end,” which you will just have to find out for yourself.