Morality Play is another jewelbox novel – sparse, elegant, compact. There is a simplicity and a brevity to the story – it takes place over two weeks – that could feel insufficient, but doesn’t. This could be a longer book, but the sketchbook quality of it fits the time and story.
The story is that of a young medieval priest, not without sin, and fairly self-aware. He’s a wanderer, restless and hungry, who stumbles upon a scene of death. A band of players in the woods, hovering over the last moments of one of their troupe. It is winter, and the players are on their way to perform Nativity plays some distance away. It is both natural and highly unnatural that the poor, cold young priest – the narrator Nicholas, a man trained to speak and read – should temporarily forswear his orders and join the band. He’s not without misgivings, but convinces himself it is his best chance for survival.
The players must stop soon enough to bury their dead comrade. They try to raise the funds for burial by putting on a play – it is poorly attended. The town is distracted by the very recent deaht of a young boy, and the fact that a young woman has already been convicted of his murder. The leader of the players has a revolutionary idea – to make the money they need to continue on in their travels by giving the town its own play – The Death of Thomas Wells – to play a true thing, to portray true people. A decision which complicates things for his troupe.
Morality Play is not a whodunit, though the actors gradually put together the pieces of the crime. It’s more a snapshot of a period in history – much harsher than I realized it was. People’s lives were so circumscribed by where they were born, it’s no wonder that roving players were considered freaks. For me though, as a theatre artist, Morality Play