Talking to St Paul’s Covent Garden – The Actors’ Church
Chantelle Johnson spoke to Reverend Simon Grigg, Rector of St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, about the history of ‘The Actors’ Church’ and their upcoming Christmas events.
What is happening this Advent and Christmas at the Actors Church?
After the sadness of 2020, we have a very full offering for Advent and Christmas. There are 43 services and concerts in Church between Advent Sunday and Christmas Day and, in addition, we have our temporary ‘pop up’ theatre, The Pod, on the grounds of the Church, with performances most nights. All details can be found on our website www.actorschurch.org or on the iris website www.iristheatre.com
Why is St Paul’s Church also known as The Actors Church?
In 1660, Charles II returned to the throne after the puritan Interregnum. Having spent that period in exile in France, Charles had developed a great love of the theatre. He, therefore, wanted theatre brought back to England – it had been banned under the puritans. But he didn’t want the sort of ‘free for all’ that had operated in Jacobethan times, because of the political comment from the stage that had, he thought, contributed to his father’s execution. In 1662, he therefore licenced two so-called ‘patent theatres’. These patent theatres were, and are, in our Parish, so the link with the theatre industry has been continuous since 1662. Quite an achievement.
When did your relationship with the theatre community begin?
Well, it began in 1662 and has been continuous ever since. The profession regards St. Paul’s as ‘their’ church and use it for weddings, baptisms, funerals, and particularly, for memorial services – before the pandemic hit, I was conducting about 20 memorial services a year. The church has established very close links with the theatre industry since 2006, when we helped to create our own professional theatre company, within the theatre, called Iris Theatre. St Paul’s is also ‘home’ to Theatre Chaplaincy UK, which seeks to place theatre chaplains in theatres across London and the regions. We have also been part of the theatre industry response to the pandemic.
Over the years, what has been some of the most creative ways you have used the church/churchyard?
Iris Theatre has been particularly creative in using our grounds and church for theatrical performances, especially during our Summer Festivals. Over the years we have performed a Shakespeare season and a Family show during the summer. These are what is known as ‘promenade’ performances, where the audience moves around the gardens and the church, following the action. The pandemic put a stop to all that, of course, but we did manage a few ‘pop up’ events in 2020, and a truncated season in 2021. We have recently replaced our very old and uncomfortable pews with brand new, beautiful, moveable pews, which means that we can be even more creative in our theatrical, concert and liturgical offerings.
What do you hope people receive when they visit/join the community at The Actors Church?
I hope that when people walk into the Actors’ Church – we are open most days – they will be stunned by the beauty of the place, by the hundreds of memorial plaques to the ‘greats’ of the theatrical profession, and by the aura of a building that has been prayed in for nearly 400 years. I hope that they will like the simple beauty and the lighting and sound of our church services, by the quality of our concert and theatre offerings and by the friendliness of everyone who works here.
Keep up to date with events at St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden here