Fion Gunn's The Immigrants No 1 from from her Age of Exploration Series

When a Child is a Witness

World Premiere

Coventry Cathedral


Coventry Cathedral comes alive when full of sound. This was a performance not a recital. There was theatricality in the choir processing by candlelight or singing from the aisles. With the organ ‘pulling out all the stops’ and choirs soaring at full stretch even the famous echo adds its charm.

When a Child is a Witness, created by Liz Dilnot Johnson for the Cathedral as a tribute to refugees, is divided into six ‘windows’ inspired by those in the Cathedral, a new requiem ‘for peace’ with apposite timing as Europe faces war.

Many groups and individuals took part in this lively requiem; Ex Cathedra, Ravensdale Primary School choir, European Refugee Choir, Carriers of Hope, Sharing Cultures, plus Lucy Russell on violin including the reclusive Hardangar fiddle, and Kadialy Kouyate on Kora.

I have sung a few requiems in my time and they do tend to the minor and mournful. But there were moments of pure joy such as Window One’s Let’s Play from Carriers of Hope, a group of mothers and babies from all round the world dancing, singing and clapping.

Window Two was from Sharing Cultures at the Belgrade Theatre and included quotations from Psalms 2 and 121, ‘I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills’ plus a beautifully heartfelt Amazing Grace and the lively Dies Irae, the Day of Wrath.


Window Three’s beautiful Lacrimosa could give Mozart a run for his money, and Orlando Gibbons’ gentle Drop, Drop Slow Tears was a delight. My highlight, however, was easily Kadialy Kouyate singing so gently and playing the Kora. It was mesmerising.

Window Four presented Psalm 23, The Lord is my Shepherd and also Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God. There were moments of dissonance; clapping didn’t seem appropriate when the verse mentions children seeing their homes destroyed, their lives in danger and their mothers crying.

Window Five’s Psalm 139 If I Take the Wings of Morning was just plain gorgeous; rhythmic with handbells, a nod to Benjamin Britten.

Window Six’s Lux Aeternae, a soaring soprano line inhabited the minor then shocked us into the major as finale. I heard my neighbour breathe Tierce de Picardie; scrummy and a perfect finish.

Jane Howard


Liz Dilnot Johnson’s fundraiser for creating and supporting creative work with refugees and asylum seekers in and around Coventry as part of #whenachildisawitness.

Index page Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre