Rhubarb! Rhubarb!
01 June 2004

A new comedy drama, Rhubarb! Rhubarb! by Hugh Steadman Williams, was premièred in a church-based arts centre in London recently. That was appropriate enough: the play is set in the home and family of a Church of England vicar. And the vicar and his wife were played by—the church’s vicar and his wife who started life as professional actors.

The stage vicar has the dream of opening a new family centre in the parish, to help save and repair broken families. The centre needs the go-ahead of the bishop. A doting parishioner, Miss Pomfret, has brought gifts of rhubarb to the vicar over several years, though he has never had the heart to tell her that he can’t stand the stuff: it brings him out in a rash. His wife is determined that he should come clean and tell Miss Pomfret the truth. The vicar’s artistic son and ambitious daughter, her rich boyfriend, and the family’s house cleaner complete the cast.

In a scene of sheer slapstick, family harmony collapses into chaos and mayhem just as the bishop arrives, seeing the family at its most dysfunctional. The vicar seems to have blown his chances of winning the bishop’s support for the new centre.

My wife and I saw the play just before our 23rd wedding anniversary. Like the vicar’s family, our family has had its fair share of ups and downs, setbacks and triumphs. But we have learnt that, as in the play, it is not our perfections that count but our honesty, fidelity and sheer stickability. After all, none of us is a paragon of virtue. Rather it is knowing and admitting that we’ve ‘been there, done that’, and still survived, that can be a source of encouragement to others.

Divorce rates in the West remain appallingly high, and Britain has one of the worst records at some 40 per cent. Too many couples seem to want to quit when they fall at the first hurdle. Yet 60 per cent of marriages do survive and the couples soldier on regardless. Forgiveness and a new start are always possible. As has been said, it is not your love that sustains your marriage but your marriage that sustains your love. Family life, the cornerstone of civilization, is by no means over, though we certainly need the vicar’s family centre.


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