A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
NB: As this is a historical play, and closely follows the autobiography of Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, there seemed no sense in avoiding spoilers. If you don’t want to know what happens to Ignatius, look away now.
The White Bear Theatre is a tiny place: a pub backroom with forty chairs in it. It isn’t a plush experience, or even a particularly comfortable one. I sit there in my barely-padded seat, horribly aware of my feet (and my coat, and my drink, and my programme), and wonder what on earth is coming.
Inigo starts with a clang. In the heat of the forge (I can feel it, with the light in my eyes) the child Inigo, the youngest Loyola, is learning about swords. A moment later and he is a boisterous young man, bursting onto the stage with his brothers (I flinch back and tuck in my feet), play-fighting, bantering, boasting of a recent conquest. Another moment, and the play-fight is real, the woman’s father on the warpath; and then it really is war, and Inigo the commander is felled where he stands, struck by a French cannonball. Months fly past: the patient, stuck in bed with a healing leg and the Lives of the Saints to read, passes through boredom, irritation, curiosity to arrive suddenly at conversion. There is Something at the end of his bed: terrified and transfixed, he tries frantically to shove the vision away before collapsing forward, his hands together in a supplicant’s prayer. The new life has begun.
This is how it goes: scene after scene, crisis after crisis, the life of Ignatius (Inigo) of Loyola. The small cast changes role, costume, accent and sometimes even gender; I become fascinated by the shoes, three pairs of them and all more Burton than Basque, that rotate among the men. One actor, the former Benedictine Paul Thomas Lyons, is priest, bishop and cardinal in rapid succession; another (Timothy Block) is Inigo’s supporter and his persecutor all at once. As Inigo, Fayez Bakhsh stands or kneels or dances at the centre of it all, his eyes often fixed above our heads, on God; sometimes he casts himself about and weeps in a way that would be rather hammy and alienating, could so easily be both of those things, were it not so dreadfully accurate.
Conversion is a messy business and, on the whole, people fight it. Inigo’s companions argue and swear and make black jokes; they play-fight like brothers around the solemn figure of Inigo. Only Hilary Tones is consistently quiet and reasonable, as Isabel Roser: a wealthy widow, Inigo’s constant supporter and one of a very few women to take vows in the early Society of Jesus. The Inquisition is faced again and again, and finally won over; and then, as suddenly as it began, the play is nearly through, and so is Inigo. Eighteen years are skipped over: we don’t see the dismissal of Isabel Roser and her companions from the Society, or Ignatius’ long years at a desk, writing the Constitutions of the Society, founding schools and colleges, sending interesting letters. (Nor could we, I suppose: it doesn’t feel like it, but it has already been over two hours.) Inigo is in his chair, dying; he can’t go to God yet, he has so much to do, and yet he longs for an end to his trials. (Suddenly, so do I. This is one leap too many, and my backside is going numb.)
Inigo is at rest, briefly, and then the actors pour out to take their bows. I applaud heartily and try to come back to myself. My eyes are tired and gummy: when Inigo wept, I wept. It has all been overwhelming, much too raw and loud for this tiny space, but how could it be otherwise? I wonder if there will be another run, in a bigger venue. I wonder how they will adapt: will it become more polished, less affecting? How far will Inigo go?
Whatever happens, I hope I can say: I was there at the beginning.
Inigo has sold out. Keep an eye on the listings…
For more about writer/director Jonathan Moore, see his website.