23 June 2022, The Tablet

Faithful to the end

Faithful to the end

Alex Jennings stars in a new play at Chichester


The Southbury Child

IN A DEVON coastal town, a child, Taylor Southbury, has died while waiting for a bone marrow donor. Her mother, single parent Tina, seeks a funeral at St Saviour’s, which Revd David Highland is happy to conduct, until the family wants the Gothic interior to be turned into a Disney castle with cartoon balloons. The vicar insists on a traditional service, igniting the fury of locals and diocesan superiors who urge him
to go with the flock.

This triggering situation of The Southbury Child – by Stephen Beresford, whose The Last of the Haussmans was seen at the National in 2012 – is doubly resonant. Such dilemmas are a genuine issue for clergy: there was a story last week about expletives concealed on a gravestone. And clashes between traditionalists and modernisers – setting individuals against a populist majority – occur not only in churches but political parties, universities, corporations, sport. Beresford seems clearly inspired by Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, a play so chiming with our times that this is the fourth recent production to invoke it: after David Hare’s new play Straight Line Crazy and revivals of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart and John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt.


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