I have to admit I almost stopped half way through this play and picked a different one for today, but I was running out of time and so continued to read My Body, My Blood.
A caveat: I am not a religious person. I have never been part of an organised religion, have attended church few enough times to count on one hand, and find the idea of orthodox religions terribly repressive. So I am not the ideal reader or audience for Margaret Kirby’s play, which is a passionate cry for women to be recognised and ordained in the Christian church. Having said this, I am a feminist and am wholly in favour of women being allowed and encouraged to take roles within the church if they so choose.
MARY: [speaking about the church] It’s not my place to be peaceful in. I have to snatch that peace where I can, when no-one else is looking, or when the holy place is empty. Women built these sacred places too. We’ve nurtured them, lovingly attended to them … I want to see a fleshy woman up there, hear her voice. Watch her children climb into the pulpit and play in the aisles. It’s hard to go into a place where I know I should belong, but I do not. It’s not a safe place for me to be. If it’s not safe for me, then it’s not safe for others too. That needs to be said again and again inside these walls.
Kirby has woven stories from four different centuries together for this piece, on the whole successfully. Mary in present day is about to have a baby. She comes from a church family: her father is a precentor, her sister, Martha, has married a bishop and she is married to a choir master, Thomas. Mary in the sixteenth century is a mid-wife and healer, about to be tried as a witch for being outspoken and irreverent. There are also short scenes set in biblical times when Jesus talks to the Mary and Martha who are present then, and others set in the fifth century when the then Pope sets out to write women out of the Bible. It is a bit confusing to read, but I imagine would be clearer when staged.
This is a play that would be better appreciated by someone who knows their Bible well and can recognise characters and stories. It felt earnest and worthy to me, but the emphasis on Christianity made the author’s note at the beginning quite incongruous: “The author sees the church as a metaphor for any institution with the power to oppress, an interpretation which goes far beyond time or place.”
Publisher: Currency Press
Cast: 4F, 3M (includes doubling – could have a larger cast)