An adaptation of John Bunyan’s epic A Pilgrim’s Progress for the Yard Theatre in Hackney Wick. While being true to the language and content of the original, the production steered a careful course to offer the pleasure of a classic of English Literature to atheist, agnostic and believer alike. The production drew gratefully on a hitherto untouched musical resource of pre-Victorian gallery hymns.

Production Team

Writer/Director  Carl Heap
Assistant Director  Chloe Mashiter
Designer  Mila Sanders
Musical Directors  Naveen Arles and Francis Roads
Singing Coach   Tim Van Eyken
Choreographer   Laurel Swift
Lighting Designer  David Mullen
Stage Manager  Daisy Marsh


Thomas Edward-Bennett

Evangelist, Armed Guard, Man in Cage, Timorous, Apollyon, Market trader, Pickthank, Shepherd Watchful, Atheist.

Holly Campbell

Help, Servant, Armed Guard, Hypocrisy, Piety, Apollyon’s arm, Market Trader, Hopeful .

Christopher Jamieson

Bunyan, Judge Hategood.

Matthew Jewson


Katherine-Ellen Kotz

Obstinate, Good Will, Damsel, Passion, Shining One, Prudence, Apollyon’s wing, Market Trader, Envy, Vain Confidence, Diffidence (Wife of Giant Despair), Shepherd Sincere.

Alexandra Rex

Interpreter, Mistrust, Charity, Apollyon’s Arm, Market Trader, Lot’s wife statue, Flatterer.

Paul Christian Rogers

Wife, Worldly Wiseman, Patience, Shining One, DreamerApollyon’s wing, Faithful, Shepherd Experience.

Oliver Westlake

Pliable, Valiant, Formalist, Porter, Apollyon’s legs, Market Trader, Officer, Giant Despair, Shepherd Knowledge.



The Yard Theatre, August 2012


John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress is given a playful and artful adaptation by Carl Heap …there is never a moment of disengagement … we sit within the heart of the piece with lights on, cast engaging with us, and if theatrics are used, they are playfully humorous… and you can’t help but be swept up with this. It’s a feat of storytelling, and it really is a hidden gem at the Yard Theatre… Progress hits all the right marks.Clever, engaging and bursting with passionate performances.

Jake Orr A Younger Theatre

A condensed version of Bunyan’s ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ sounds like a daunting venture. That dense allegorical tale about a young traveller, Christian, seeking salvation isn’t known for its chuckles. Yet Beggarsbelief’s resourceful and witty adaptation, ‘A Progress’, reminds us what a pure joy theatre can be.

The Yard Theatre’s holiday-camp feel provides an apt setting for this gleefully childish production. The slapdash set and costumes might look like they’ve been stapled together, but they’re nicely evocative. Christian’s children are represented by cleverly manipulated sheets; the Giant Man is a looming silhouette, and roaring lions are played by dancing mops.

Thomas Edward-Bennett is an awesome Apollyon, his dragon-like form invoked using a bucket punched with holes, poles for arms and ragged sheets for wings. Matthew Jewson is the ideal romantic protagonist, wide-eyed and swishy-haired. Christian Jamieson’s excellent narrator is earnest when he needs to be, wonderfully droll when he does not; he establishes a brilliant rapport with the audience. By the end, the spectators were spontaneously singing along with the cast.

Miriam Gillinson Time Out  ****Critics Choice   (12 Users say *****)

Beggarsbelief’s delightful adaptation of Bunyan’s A Pilgrim’s Progress features a strong commitment to performers and what they can do, with little to no set and a strong cast of 8 playing all of the roles ….it is simply outstanding. All of the effects are also handled by the performers, with very little that they aren’t creating themselves … It’s all homespun and simple, but done with great effect – at no point better than with Apollyon, the destroyer, created effectively with just a bucket, two arms, two flags and some balls wrapped in material – exceptional stuff indeed.

This is all tied up with some audience interaction – we are spoken to directly, asked to hold props, sometimes even called upon to speak, which is handled effectively (if, a little predictably, some refused to take part). In short, it’s nicely directed by Carl Heap, and a credit to a company that trusts in such lo-fi effects.

Chris Hislop   One Stop Arts



The Book and the Production

“[Pilgrim’s Progress is…] about a man that left his family, it didn’t say why. I read considerable in it now and then. The statements was interesting, but tough.”

Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn

It has been claimed that tinker’s son John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress – first published in 1678 – is the second most read book in the world, ever. This may be open to challenge, but there is no denying that it is a hugely significant landmark in our cultural history, never out of print. Without it we would not have had the Wizard of Oz, and it is owed a debt by works as diverse as Lord of the Rings, Vanity Fair (the novel and the magazine title), the Matrix, Total Wipe-Out, and no end of computer games. Douglas Adams in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy gives his central character the name Arthur Dent, whose namesake just happens to be the author of Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven, one of two books that were the sole inheritance of Bunyan’s wife – and which prompted Bunyan’s initial spiritual crisis. E.P.Thompson, in his Making of the English Working Class, cites Pilgrim’s Progress, along with Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man, as “one of the two foundation texts of the English working-class movement”.

So, as such, it deserves to be revisited more often. There is a Vaughan Williams opera, and there have been radio adaptations and films – Liam Neeson’s first screen role was as Evangelist in a somewhat excruciating 1979 film (check it out on Youtube). However, I suspect film is far too literal a medium to do justice to an allegory that needs a little more room for the viewer’s imagination – and perhaps a certain critical distance?

 “…we must drop our habit of taking the different social structures of past periods, then stripping them of everything that makes them different; so that they all look more or less like our own, which then acquires from this process a certain air of having been there all along, in other words of permanence pure and simple.  Instead we must leave them their distinguishing marks and keep their impermanence always before our eyes, so that our own period can be seen to be impermanent too.”

Bertolt Brecht


In this adaptation I have allowed Bunyan to speak in his own words – as far as possible – for two reasons. First, his words are eloquent and gritty and no less accessible than most of Shakespeare [Pedants’ corner – Pilgrim’s Progress contains the first recorded use the phrase “Hanging’s too good for him”] Second, I feel it is important that he is seen and heard in the context of his time. The late 17th Century was a time of religious ferment in Britain. The monarchy had been restored under Charles II and no one was allowed to preach apart from the clergy of the Established Church. As a dissenting Baptist preacher, Bunyan repeatedly defied the law and spent a total of 12 years in Bedford Jail, which is where Pilgrim’s Progress was conceived and written. His dream-allegory was formulated not so much from the point of view of a believer addressing non-believers but rather as a purveyor of a somewhat harsh and Calvinistic challenge to other Christian orthodoxies.  I didn’t have space (or the inclination) to include this little episode at the end of Christian’s journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death:


“I espied a little before me a Cave, where two Giants, Pope and Pagan, dwelt in old time; by whose power and tyranny the men whose bones, blood, ashes, etc., lay there, were cruelly put to death… though [the Pope] may be yet alive, he is by reason of age, and also of the many shrewd brushes that he met with in his younger days, grown so crazy, and stiff in his joints, that he can now do little more than sit in his Cave’s mouth, grinning at Pilgrims as they go by, and biting his nails because he cannot come at them… “You will never mend till more of you be burned!”

Readers and audiences today can shy away too easily from works that have religious associations – though somehow that doesn’t stop non-believing concertgoers from going to see or hear a Bach Matthew Passion or a Handel’s Messiah, or art-appreciators from admiring religious paintings in a gallery or on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

What endures is that Pilgrim’s Progress, when stripped of its more harsh theology, is an engrossing and far from humourless adventure story in which the Everyman protagonist goes on an allegorical life-as-a-journey, encounters a series of challenges, and is helped or hindered by the characters he meets.  The premise of Christian’s journey – escape from the fear of a judgement that will lead to the barbecued eternity of Hell or Everlasting Life in the Celestial City will seem crude now even to many professing believers.  Anyone asking the question ‘What is a life well-lived?’ can, I hope, be a curious fellow traveller for most of the journey, even if they take it as myth.  It is only ultimately on the passage of the pilgrims through the River of Oblivion that they (Christian and Hopeful) must part company with atheists (and indeed a considerable number of Christians). Here I have taken the liberty of interrupting Bunyan’s dream prematurely and left it ambiguous as to whether or not the Pilgrims arrive at a further shore and a Celestial City. While feeling a responsibility to Bunyan’s vision, I have set out to produce a version, naïve and artless perhaps, but sincere, that allows an audience of all stripes to make its own choices about what might (or not) lie beyond, within, above or below… Bon voyage.

Carl Heap