Paul’s Boys met Edward’s Boys.
As a Sixth Former at King Edward VI School, Stratford-upon-Avon, I took a group of fellow pupils to London to see the excavations and plans surrounding Sam Wanamaker’s great vision of reconstructing Shakespeare’s Globe on the banks of the Thames.
Over thirty years later, I find myself living and working just across the river from the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at St Paul’s Cathedral where my duties as Precentor include oversight of Paul’s Boys – the Choristers of St Paul’s Cathedral, who form the heart of the Cathedral Choir which is now, under the direction of Andrew Carwood, regarded as the world’s greatest cathedral choir.
Amongst Andrew’s predecessors at St Paul’s are numbered certain characters in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries who encouraged the Choristers in their charge to act in plays. Whether they were aided and abetted by any of my predecessors is not entirely clear. However, four hundred years later, we have collaborated with Perry Mills at my old school to bring today’s Paul’s Boys together with Edward’s Boys who have created something quite remarkable in its own right; and an echo of what the Choristers of St Paul’s were doing in their spare time all those years ago.
We too had a little theatre, perhaps not unlike the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, somewhere on the south side of the great gothic cathedral, any remaining traces of which were destroyed in the Great Fire of London of 1666.
It is quite extraordinary to think of the Choristers disrobing after singing the music of Byrd, Tallis, Batten and Weelkes at Prayer Book Evensong only to don costumes, masks and wigs so that they might become the characters created by Lyly, Marston and Middleton.
The Choristers of St Paul’s today have an unenviable programme of work as they prepare to lead the worship of our twenty-first century cathedral such that it is hard to imagine them taking on the extra duties of theatrical performance. These ‘little eyases’ certainly earn their keep and it will be a great joy to see them in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in something of their other earlier role as members of a theatrical troupe, singing the music of both church and stage, while their present-day representatives perform extracts from the plays that were once part of the Choristers’ repertoire.
It is perhaps fair to say that when Paul’s Boys meet Edward’s Boys it will be a moment of theatrical history. Join us on June 26 to be a part of it.
Words: Michael Hampel, Precentor, St Paul’s Cathedral