Our Deputy Artistic Director tells us about Faith, the series of events taking place around Coventry on 10-11 September, and the four plays she is directing for it.

Erica Whyman in Coventry's Millennium Square.
Erica in Coventry's Millennium Square.
Photo by FiveSix Photography © The Artist Browse and license our images

What is the idea behind Faith, this 24-hour series of events?

It’s an invitation to join in a conversation about faith and belief. You don’t have to be a person of faith, or have an affiliation to a religion. But we’d love to get people talking and thinking about the different beliefs that are shared in the city and some that are not shared.

There will be an evening meal on the Friday night in Coventry, bringing together the communities of faith and no faith that have worked with us on the project. On Saturday almost all of the places of worship in Coventry are opening their doors in some way as part of the Open House initiative. Some of them are laying on music and pop-up performances, some have got exhibitions, talks, guided tours, and some will simply open their doors and be part of a tapestry of blue ribbons, created by Tom Piper, that will join up the places of worship across the city. It’s an invitation to find out more about the different faiths, explore these amazing buildings and their stories. 

Meanwhile on Saturday, I am directing four promenade plays, two written by Chris O’Connell, who is born and bred in Coventry, and two by Chinonyerem Odimba. If you come to see one of the plays, you’ll walk with us on a route through the city visiting lots of different spaces – faith buildings, parks, Broadgate, and even the underpass! 

What are the plays about?

They’re not plays about religion; they are plays about how faith works in everyday life.

One of the plays is about a very young person having to deal with a parent dying, finding strength and courage to go forward. One is about a love affair and forgiveness, and about how the city has changed. The third play is about a young Sikh couple arriving in the city and finding a community. And the last play is about a group of young people who are dealing with one of their friends going missing.

All of the plays have a way of exploring Coventry, speaking some truths about how it can be a place of sanctuary, or how maybe it’s changing too fast. They’re quite honest and very hopeful plays.

On the Saturday evening at sunset we will have a ceremony of light in Millennium Square to bring together everyone who has participated in the project and anyone who wants to light a torch with us. There’s a pledge for transformation that was put together by a range of people of faith and no faith to try and express how we might go forward together and respect our differences. It’s a beautiful piece of writing and we’ll speak that together as we light 120 flaming torches.

Cast and creatives of Faith posing in Coventry Cathedral.
Faith cast and creatives. Back row, l-r: Jack Gardner, Jennifer Davis (Associate Director), Erica Whyman, Katy Stephens, Chris O’Connell (playwright of The Return and The Messenger), Pushpinder Chani. Front row, l-r Sarah Cullum, Grace Wylde, Claire Wetherall, Anand Toora, Matthew Wait.
Photo by FiveSix Photography © The Artist Browse and license our images

What do you hope people will take from Faith?

I hope everyone will take away a sense of hope from the experience. And solace and comfort from having lived through the pandemic, where everybody has suffered a loss or had a life changed, so it feels like a privilege to make something that can look that in the eye and say, we go forward together.

There’s something for me about common humanity. I’ve learned that it takes great courage for people of one faith to engage with people of another faith. I’ve learned that it takes courage for people of no faith to make room to hear what other people believe.

Coventry is full of solidarity and collective action but, like all English cities, has divisions and it can seem like a hostile place to be for some people who feel like they’re in a minority or they’re not ‘seen’. What I really hope is that by the end of that Saturday there’s a sense that we’ve all been ‘seen’, that we’re all represented by the people who have participated in the project. And faith means a different thing to each of us, but if we have faith in one another, to go forward because we’ve shared something, then we might be all right. 

Faith is a co-production between Coventry City of Culture Trust and the RSC, and takes place Friday 10 - Saturday 11 September. Tickets are free, and there are also volunteer roles available for people who want to help with the event.

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