In preparation for the visit of the relics of St Therese to Oxford, the Oratory parish put on a play about St Therese and her mission, telling the story of Therese's life and vocation in the context of her relevance to the challenges faced by young people at the beginning of the 21st century. Through the 'little way' of one of the greatest saints of modern times, we discover the real meaning of love: a love which can transform lives, a love which leads to eternal happiness. "Divine Comedy: A Theresian Mystery Play" was performed in the church from the 30th September to the 2nd of October 2009, with a free performance for schools on the afternoon of Therese's feast, the 1st of October. It was written by Leonie Caldecott, and directed by Teresa Caldecott.
Here is a review by one of the audience:
A divine comedy that proved a divine delight
I went along to Léonie Caldecott's play 'Divine Comedy: A Thérèsian Mystery Play' out of curiosity. Certainly, I was curious to learn about the life of St Thérèse, a saint whose writings I had often heard praised but about whom I personally knew very little. But in addition to that, I was drawn out of curiosity as to what sort of production this was going to be. At first it simply sounded like a lovely idea: a play about the life of St Thérèse being staged by an Oxford parish to celebrate the impending visit to their church of the saint's relics. But the more I learnt about this particular play the more unusual it became. First, I learnt that it had been especially written by a member of the congregation. Then, I discovered that it was to be a medieval mystery play that weaved the mysteries of the rosary into a biographical retelling of the saint's story. Next, I heard that it was to be directed by the playwright's daughter, Tessa Caldecott, and would feature a huge cast (60+) of parishioners including little children, pensioners, and everything in between. Even the Oratorian fathers were all playing parts. This, I soon realised, was going to be a far cry from your average church hall show and was shaping up to be an important and original work of community art.
I was not disappointed. In fact, I was bowled over. I had simply not anticipated the scale and ambition of the project. It is not very often, for example, that one finds extracts from the writings of Hans Urs von Balthasar in a programme note! Drawing from the most reliable biographers of St Thérèse, the play presents an epic account of the saint's life, both visible and interior, in no less that 37 scenes divided into two acts. With a deft and often humorous touch, the Caldecotts succeed in framing a beautifully costumed period drama within a contemporary morality tale centering on the relationship of an all too typical teenager, Dan, and his girlfriend Beatrice. This modern story of two young lovers, which unfolds echoing the structure of Dante's Divine Comedy, becomes mysteriously intertwined with the remarkable adventure of another young lover, Thérèse, and in doing so gradually reveals the profundity and timeless relevance of her message. This dramatic and complex juxtaposition of two spiritual journeys, shot through with the rich symbolism of the medieval miracle play tradition, invokes the sort of mystical realism so characteristic of Karol Wojtyla's rhapsodic theatre. Like Wojtyla, the Caldecotts aim to counterbalance the outer world of actions and events with an imaginative portrayal of their characters' inner drama of ideas, memories and personal struggle.
The creative vision of the writer and director was only matched by the remarkable commitment of the cast and production team. As a sheer feat of project management it was incredible to think that Divine Comedy was actually the result of a purely volunteer and largely amateur parish group. So elaborate a conceptual schema presents a serious challenge for set and costume design, choreography and lighting - but a challenge which the team rose impressively to meet. For me, the energy and dedication which so manifestly went into this production provided an elegant testimony to the virtues and values which the play sought to explore and celebrate. An extraordinary thing done in an extraordinary way, it was a play to stimulate the mind and gladden the heart.
Balliol College, Oxford