The Pilgrim Play,
Written and performed by Chris New,
St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, London (one night only), then touring from April 1.
Running time: approximately two hours including interval.
Chris New is an actor accustomed to scale after a career in film, television, at the RSC and the National Theatre, but lockdown forced a rethink, and he found himself asking what was the simplest format that no pandemic could disrupt.
The result is a play he has written, performs and, from April 1, plans to take on foot to venues from Land’s End to John O’Groats.
An antidote to the glitz that can disguise the mediocre, it’s a welcome return to the roots of theatre and to a focus on consummate acting skill.
Before setting off on his pilgrimage, New delivered a London premiere at the church known as The Actors’ Church in Covent Garden, with proceeds to the charity SurvivorsUK that helps men, boys and non-binary people who have suffered sexual trauma.
New’s play is about surviving various traumas as part of the journey of life.
The life in question is that of Stink, an outsider, a fool and an everyman in tune with his animal side.
With the help of a cloak and hat adorned with feathers, shells, netting and dirt that is the work of Bafta- and Emmy Award-winning designer Michele Clapton, New convincingly takes us into an unspecified epoch that is in some ways much slower than our times, and yet charged with experiences that are vivid, brutal and intensely imagined.
Stink is rejected and mocked, falls in love and is bereaved. His mourning is powerfully moving as we almost believe the garment he cradles was once human.
He is accused, trampled upon by cows, fights to the death and witnesses a kind of resurrection.
It could seem merely strange and remote, but New’s acting makes it immediate, poetic, life-affirming and completely absorbing.