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Roll up for The Catholic Circus

18 February 2011

Excess, extortion and enslavement – a satirical new play written by fourth-year student, Francesca Hedges, and performed and produced by the Department of German, depicts the corruption within the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages.

The Catholic Circus, which will be performed in German on 2 and 3 March, portrays the medieval Catholic Church in all its debauchery. Bishops were sleeping with prostitutes, drinking in taverns and struggling themselves to read the Latin Bible. The Church was drenched in wealth and squeezed its impoverished congregation out of every ducat they were worth, reaping the rewards from a roaring business plan by promising salvation in return for money. But the good times are nearly over for Pope Leo X, who finds himself the confession box opposite Martin Luther, leader of the Protestant Reformation and campaigner against the injustices of the time.

Final-year German student Francesca Hedges wrote The Catholic Circus as her essay during her year abroad in Austria. The play was inspired by an option she took on Martin Luther and the Reformation in her second year with Senior Lecturer, Dr Anne Simon. The invention of the printing press in 1455 made possible, arguably for the first time, the use of propaganda on a large scale in support of a particular cause. Luther himself was a writer – and a polemicist – of genius, who could insult and condemn with greater wit, verve, rhetorical elegance and force than just about anyone before or since. He set the style for Reformation propaganda, which was no-holds-barred, slanderous, rude, vigorous and huge fun to read. The same applies to the visual propaganda.

Hedges said: ‘After looking at Reformation propaganda in text and image in my second-year option, I came with the idea of writing a play, in German and in the style of Reformation propaganda literature, about a fictitious meeting between Luther and his opponent Pope Leo X.’

Dr Simon said: ‘To write a play as the year abroad essay (a compulsory piece of work Modern Languages students have to do on their year abroad) is in itself original and inventive. To write a play – especially such a funny one – about as theologically, politically and socially as complex a topic as the Reformation in the style of the literature of the time, using invective Luther himself would have envied, is a remarkable achievement. To have the play chosen as the annual German Department production – an event that traditionally attracts audiences from schools and from outside Bristol – is another.

‘It shows what innovative possibilities may arise from teaching and learning at Bristol, possibilities that allow a student’s creativity and imagination full scope on the foundation of academically rigorous study. The theatre production showcases the best the Bristol German Department has to offer.’

The play is produced by Austrian Lektorin, Dr Edith Kreutner, and sponsored by the German Academic Exchange Service and the Austrian Cultural Forum London. All of the roles are played by students, who have also contributed to building the set and designing the poster. Dr Simon added: ‘The production is a truly collaborative effort, and highlights the opportunity for international friendship and cooperation available to students of German within the department.’

Next year, Hedges plans to begin research on an MPhil in Medieval German History and eventually hopes to become a playwright.

The play will be performed on 2 and 3 March at 7.30 pm at Clifton High School Theatre, College Road, Bristol BS8 3JD. Tickets cost £4 and are available on the night, from Sandra Beer in room 2.74 or from other members of staff at the German Department at 21 Woodland Road between 10am and 5pm.

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