with APRIL HEAVISIDES
IT IS WITH GREAT PRIDE (an not a little humility ) that I announce that my job-share partner and special friend Joe (Sister Immaculata of the Incarceration of S. Rose of Lima in private life) is a star! Yes, really a star!! A Bette Midler, Madonna, Barbara Streisland, Liza Minelli type star!! And we owe it all to a former editor of the Catholic Herald! Step forward Peter Stanford – the man who turned a boring bit of medieval sub-porno into a throbbing West End hit!!!
The gala opening night was incandescent with stars. Everybody was there. Hugh Grant with somebody in something tight; Elton John with somebody with lots of muscles; Wesley Carr with his solicitor; Lord and Lady Lloyd Webber looking rather glum; Charles and Camilla looking perfectly radiant; George-and-Eileen looking as though they would be happier in the Upper Circle; Chris Smith with Damian; Philip Crowe with Monica Furlong; Lavinia Byrne and Angela Tilby; and Michael Perham, representing the Liturgical Commission of the Church of England (which hopes to incorporate most of the show into its already projected multi-media compendium “Let’s Concelebrate 2021′)
Everybody knew beforehand. of course, what a rattling success it would be. There had been talk among seasoned theatrical cynics of a ‘period of reception’ during which audiences would be allowed independently to decide on the merits of the show. But frankly that proved unnecessary. Most of the critics had filed their rave notices before the curtain went up!
And what a show it was!! Of course, ‘I did it our way!’ has become an anthem for women the world over. But there are other great numbers: ‘Infallibility’; and that searching, haunting melody ‘Dominatrix’.
But what the critics missed – and what you readers of ‘New Directions’ need to know – is the crucial importance of this production for the C of E, the Movement and all that we stand for.
It is, in the first place, a vivid restructuring of history. We all know, of course that the actual evidence for Joan’s existence is pretty flimsy; but that is not the point. Like Jesus himself, Pope Joan is clearly, for the most part, an invention of the communal imagination. She is not so much a figure from the past (which in any case is vicious, patriarchal and needs to be discarded); she is instead a means whereby women re-imagine their past and so face the future with courage and determination. I am so, so proud that it is Joe who has put the flesh on Joan. She is, if I may say so, every inch a Pope.
Theologically ‘Pope Joan’ is also a major break through for us. The dying speech (in which the Pope tells the cardinals that she is named not for Johannes but for Junia, and that her authority comes not from Peter but from a hidden line of women apostles going back to Mary of Magdala) has been hailed as the boldest statement of where we are at. In the brave new world of the Third Millennium there is no need for women to be enslaved by Tradition. We are the tradition; and where the scriptures do not measure up to our contemporary aspirations and self-understanding, we have a duty to rewrite them. Joan the Infallible speaks for the women of the New Millennium.
Last (but by no means least) Joan is poignantly symbolic of woman as ‘victim’. In her death (the earthquake and lightning effects are a triumph of stage technology by the way) Joan is shown as the victim both of male prejudice and her own biology. She is Everywoman; marginalised by male society; trapped by her own bodily functions. How moving then, as the long scene draws to close, with the pregnant Joan giving birth by the roadside, that the attendant figures form themselves into a Nativity tableau, reminiscent of some master of the High Renaissance. The earthquake (emblematic of the Crucifixion pangs of child birth) ceases, and the assembled officials (the un-wise men and false-shepherds of the tableau) show to Joan, at the moment of death, the symbol of hope. ‘It’s a girl!’
I want everyone of you ‘New Directions’ readers out there to get to this show! If the experience of women priests has not converted you by now (and your heart is not made of Pentellic marble) you will feel strangely warmed. I was in tears; George-and Eileen were in tears; the audience left in an eerie and subdued silence. But enough of that.
Readers are always writing to ask about Tom; and there have, I fear, been ominous developments on what had seemed a relatively peaceful domestic front.
Derek (will you believe it?) has become a Christian of sorts! I say ‘of sorts’ because he has been grabbed by one of those extreme fundamentalist groups which meets in a cinema. The new girlfriend took him to a Sunday rave-in, where the music was all high tech and the pastor wore Armani, and Derek is hooked. Now he is concerned about Tom and his schooling. Having found Tom a safe C of E place where he was unlikely to be indoctrinated with anything of which either of us would approve, Derek now wants him to go to some private pentecostalist Gulag, where they sing mindless choruses every day and learn bible stories by rote.
Joe and I intend to put down our collective feet in no uncertain measure, I can tell you. If you ask me all this merely confirms two things about Derek: he is shamelessly male chauvinist and easily led. This woman, with her girlie ways and Old Tyme Religion has got her teeth into him and no mistake. By all accounts he is eating out of her hand. And he has always been a shameless Patriarchalist. All that undigested biblicism will be just up his street! A male God, a male saviour, male disciples; an opiate for all his insecurities!
Well, we do not intend Tom to grow up in that narrow way. Our son will experience openness and choice. We are bringing him up in a world which is, in a radical sense, degendered (though I must say his early preference for toy dumper-trucks was something of a set-back). I do not intend to let Derek spoil the experiment – though he does his best to turn their ‘quality time’ together into something more sinister.
The problem is that Tom actually likes his spineless dinosaur of a father and looks forward to their weekends, returning with quite unsuitable toys and story books containing dangerous role models. The only recourse, so far as I can see is another visit to those awful solicitors. The heart sinks!!
And now a final word about Charlie Boy! As you can imagine Joe and I were devastated after the death of Diana. Her glamour! Her tenderness! Her approachability! Her vulnerability! She was truly an icon for our age! She is still on the fridge-freezer alongside Mother Theresa and Nigel McCulloch! When we heard that Charles Spencer’s funeral speech was to be included in a school text-book as an fine example of English oratory we were thrilled.
But, frankly, the enthusiasm has waned. In retrospect she seems less a feminist icon and more a sort of Barbie doll – all clothes-horse and appetite for publicity. It is hard to forgive her for the adulation she fleetingly inspired. And then there was the dreadful possibility that she might have married that Egyptian and been forced into veils and things (like the Goldsmith girl). What could be worse than a future with a hairy chest and a lot of gold jewellery?
So Charles and Camilla now seem a much more attractive proposition. I met him at the first night. Big-ears, they call him; but he is all charm and suavete. You can see what they see in him! How he must have been hurt by the attacks of that multiple wife-beater from the pulpit of Westminster Abbey! And with what dignity he deflected the assault! I have a prediction to make. Not only will Charles become King, and marry Camilla; but he will become something of a feminist hero (if there can be such a thing!)
As Joe says: after Clinton and Monica anything is possible! Though he has not as yet achieved fridge magnet status!!
April Heavysides is Archbishops’ Chaplain to the Millennium Experience, a job which she shares with Sr Immaculata ISRL. She is a Canon of Southwark.