Jean Meslier was a French Catholic priest who upon his death in 1729 was discovered to have written a book-length philosophical essay promoting atheism. His atheist “testament to my parishioners” denounced all religion and argued for the ending of the monarchy for good measure.
“The last and most ardent of my wishes,” he is said to have written, ” [is] to see the last of the kings strangled by the guts of the last priest.”
What absolutely fantastic material for a play!
Imagine the dramatic potential of a man torn between his loyalty to his parishioners and his disbelief in the messages he preaches to them.
Imagine a thoroughly institutionalised pillar of the community coming to terms with the fact that his very role in life is founded on an untruth of such magnitude that he dare not speak it.
Imagine the torment of his secret life, the years spent secretly recording his passionate belief in the sophistry of his vocation, the Catholic institution and society without being able to share his insight or his pain.
Imagine all this because you won’t get to see any of it if you go and watch The Last Priest at the King’s Head Theatre, Islington.
Now Phil has no interest whatsoever in history (presumably because he was actually there for most of it) so Andrew press-ganged would-be Whinger Neil (who is not only clever but also very knowledgeable about history and religion and so forth) into coming along. Andrew was looking forward to a post-show discussion that wouldn’t centre around wigs and dust for a change.
Actually, Phil is now kicking himself since hearing that Martin Hancock (who played Spider Nugent in Coronation Street) was having a quiet drink in the King’s Head before the show although he was not one of the 19 unfortunate people who sat dumb-struck through the first act.
Anyway, the play. There was quite a decent little set and a cellist who played some music quite a lot (which was actually quite irritating) and there was some business about moving crockery around.
The episodic plot rather unexpectedly told the story of a love triangle between Meslier, his housekeeper and his friend, a theme of somewhat smaller proportions than we were hoping for.
The dialogue utterly failed to compensate for the disappointment aspiring as it did to catchphrases such as “It’s not un-overcomable” which admittedly may simply have lost something in translation from the 18th Century rural French. Who can tell?
The three actors played all five roles, two of which were Voltaire (!) and Madame de Pompadour (!) who was apparently very hot judging by all the fanning going on in the manner of the French & Saunders Dangerous Liaisons parody.
With no tenterhooks in evidence at the interval, Andrew and Neil retired to the pub which – alas – was no longer frequented by Spider Nugent and entered into an intense theological and intellectual debate about the issues not raised by the play. Their conclusion? They couldn’t wait to get home and look up Meslier on Wikipedia.
Even the revelation in the programme that the main actor Julian Bird spent most of his life in the field of medicine was not enough to drawn them back in for the second act although the notion of faking a collapse and crying out “Is there a doctor in the house?” to see what happened was quite tempting.
Further investigation of the programme revealed that Maureen Lipman and Victoria Wood are both “Life Presidents” of the King’s Head. Does Life really mean Life? Poor things.