St Thomas More: still A Man for all Seasons

St Thomas More: still A Man for all Seasons

Emma O'Shea

Robert Bolt's Tony Award Winning Play of Sir Thomas More: A Man for All Seasons is set to thrill Australian audiences again this year in a new Artes Christi production.

Following the 2010 musical, MacKillop, Artes Christi has now turned its hand to one of England's most famous saints, Thomas More, who was martyred by King Henry VIII in 1535 over a dispute between the King and the Papacy.

The production will be directed by renowned writer, actor and director Donald Macdonald and will feature a cast of 14 including acclaimed actors Faye Anderson ( Homicide, Matlock and A Country Practice), Tony Girdler ( Water Rats and MacKillop), as well as Paul Kennedy as Thomas More following his previous roles in Artes Christi and Carnivale Christi productions as C.S. Lewis ( Shadowlands) and St Thomas Beckett ( Murder in the Cathedral).

"St Thomas More's life and death were clearly dramatic but his fidelity and even humour under horrendous circumstances are aspects of his personality that have actually attracted people of all faiths over the past 500 years," said Anthony McCarthy, the co-producer of the play.

"In fact the playwright Robert Bolt was not even a Christian and yet he has written a most moving portrayal of St Thomas More's life which is also entirely faithful to the story."

A Man for Alll Seasons traces the career of St Thomas More, a humble husband and father but also one of England's finest ever lawyers and chancellors. But when King Henry VIII demands that the Pope allow him to divorce his Spanish wife Catherine so that he can marry Anne Boleyn, "the bonds of marriage aren't the only thing about to be severed."

St Thomas famously commented to his executioner when he put his head upon the block, that he should wait until he had put his beard aside, "for that has committed no Treason". Following this, St Thomas More's final words on the scaffold "I am the King's Good Servant but God's first," have since become an inspiration to anyone who has ever had to choose between loyalty to country and law and loyalty to faith.

Following the 2010 production of the musical MacKillop, which was attended by almost 8,000 people across Australia as part of the canonisation celebrations, Artes Christi's 2011 program will now feature three new productions: A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt, the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Donald Macdonald's one man show The Gospel of St John, which will tour to the Edinburgh Festival in August before a season of performances across Australia in November.

"Where MacKillop portrayed the vital role that St Mary of the Cross played in Australian history, especially through the establishment of schools, A Man for All Seasons highlights the extraordinary life and story of St Thomas More and its central place in English history," explains Kieran Walton, the co-producer of the play.

"St Thomas More is often remembered as martyr for the Papacy - which he was - but his contribution to the law and to English culture was also extremely significant. And with a royal wedding this year as well as Pope Benedict's establishment of the Anglican Ordinariate, it's timely to reflect again about the tumultous period of the reign of Henry VIII as well as the origins of the English reformation."

Tickets are even being sold as part of what has been called a KingHenry Package, where groups of six or more get a special discount, in reference to King Henry's six wives. (This Package allows Groups of six or more to purchase tickets at the discounted price of $35 each.)

"This is undoubtedly one of the finest and most experienced casts Artes Christi has assembled," said Anthony McCarthy, who is also Artes Christi's national director. "We're delighted to have some of our best actors back from MacKillop and there are also several of our specialist theatre actors who are delighted to be performing and acting again under Donald's truly inspiring direction."

Paul Kennedy, who plays St Thomas More, commented: "I have always found inspiration in St Thomas More's life, so you would think that it would be daunting, but I find him such an accessible saint.

"Sure, he was a martyr and a statesman, but he was also a father and a husband so his life and journey are easy to identify with. He didn't seek martyrdom, but his defence of marriage, his belief in the rule of law and his deep faith have universal appeal and timeless relevance. I pray that I can capture some of that in my performance.

"And Robert Bolt's incredible play won a Tony Award whilst the movie won six Academy Awards so clearly the story is not only inspiring but also highly effective as a piece of dramatic theatre."

A Man for All Seasons will play at the St Martin's Theatre (Melbourne) from 10 June. Tickets are from $35, phone 0424-648-034, or visit www.artes

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