Margery Kempe, the Wife of Lynn’s Tale
King’s Lynn Minster
In 14th century Lynn, Margery Kempe gave voice to God. Over 600 years later, Gareth Calway (the author) gave voice to Margery, placing her firmly in her time and town.
The premiere of Margery Kempe, the Wife of Lynn’s Tale was structured with a nod to Chaucer (played, in an amusing cameo, by Dr Richards). Margery’s tale was presented by the amanuensis of her famous Book, her father and Margery herself.
The play began with a prologue from Margery’s scribe (Calway) – an unidentified figure, until a fiendish twist raised eyebrows. The audience were encouraged to consider how, at a time when worship was controlled by the Church, an illiterate wife and mother believed she had a direct relationship with God.
Margery’s life was contextualised by her father, John Brunham (David Norfolk), an influential Lynn merchant. The secular was held up against the ecclesiastical as drama was authoritatively used to give a patriarchal voice to history.
Joanna Swan gave a captivating performance as Margery. It must be challenging to portray a character as hysterical as Margery, without losing the sincerity of her belief.
Swan adeptly managed this and, rather than being alienated by her lamentations, the audience empathised with Margery’s torments.
The setting of the Minster, although acoustically challenging, leant great presence. Knowing that Margery’s voice was echoing through the centuries strengthened the play’s union of the dramatic and historic.
It was a portrayal of a strong woman standing by her beliefs, despite society’s constraints – some themes run strong throughout time.