Marie Curie’s Carols in the City at Southwark Cathedral
Tonight Southwark Cathedral hosts its ninth year of Marie Curie’s Carols in the City; this stunning setting – “a constant presence in a changing city” – is the glittering star of the show. The theme is generosity, with a very personal touch. This is the real spirit of Christmas, a celebration of living and the invaluable role Marie Curie plays at the end of life.
Veteran weather forecaster Siân Lloyd is host for the night; gentle and eloquent, she leads the proceedings with grace and lightheartedness. Once in Royal David’s City opens with the ethereal tones of chorister Joe McWatters. The unexpected explosion of harmony from the rear of the church is Fever Pitch progressing down the aisle in angelic style.
Celia Imrie’s recognisable voice next wraps around the words of Christmas by John Betjeman – she brings it to life, humorous and moving. Swiftly moving on between acts, the evening is packed with a treat of British talent with Robert Bathurst who has the audience heartily giggling. His performance of Robert Salter’s 2nd Epistle of Joseph to the Corinthians is hilarious, delivered with a dry wit.
The carols are courtesy of Fever Pitch, and they are a joy – full and with a different sound to other choirs, they are a refined and wonderfully diverse mix of talent. Every carol they sing is rounded and spine-tingling, drawing everything together with beautifully realised renditions. The haunting Hymn to the Virgin commands absolute silence, contrasting with an energetic The Holly and the Ivy. Siân Lloyd’s “weathering tribute to Dickens” is yet another nod to British greatness.
Eammon Holmes gives a stoic and hardy reading of those very famous words of Luke 2: 1-20, delivered with sincerity. Following on traditionally, O Holy Night is performed by Marilyn Monroe-esque soprano Natalie Coyle. This evening she’s very nervous and not quite on the money: it’s a shaky start, the backing organ far too fast. She has potential for greatness but she’s not allowed to shine with this, and sadly the carol isn’t afforded the reverence it deserves.
The message tonight is one of thanks to the many supporters of the Marie Curie cause present in the Cathedral. The charity’s chief executive Dr Jane Collins reiterates how important the charity is to over 40,000 people every year, and this need will only increase. Incredibly, Bill Whiland is able to share his personal story – his wonderful wife Edith got to see her first grandchild and her only daughter’s wedding thanks to the help of Marie Curie nurses in her last months. This is a desperately heart-wrenching but hopeful tale that encapsulates the spirit of the evening – giving without reservation.
In tribute to Edith, BBC Radio 2 Young Chorister of the Year Luke McWatters enchants with Walking in the Air, transporting the audience to that starry sky. It’s innocent and endearing with depth as well as flight. Rounding off the celebrity readings is Maureen Lipman, whose reading of Re:joice by Joyce Grenfell is significant and authoritative, sarcastic and biting, but ultimately reveals “the glory and the good of Christmas”.
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing is an intriguing closing piece – perhaps the organist is playing something different as the tune is anyone’s guess, but it’s hearty nonetheless. Rousing, sophisticated and thought-provoking, this is a beautifully pitched charity event that sets a precedent for thinking of others during this special time of year. Lloyd peppers the evening with weather jokes, closing the ceremony by forecasting a sparkling white Christmas. One only hopes she’s right, after tonight the festive season has been welcomed in style.
Photos: Oliver Woods
Marie Curie Cancer Care Carols in the City was at Southwark Cathedral, for further information or to make a donation visit here.