1980: Su Riddell – A new start in life

Su  Riddell


In July 1980, a one-man show about St Francis, Un Soleil en Pleine Nuit, premiered in Caux. It starred French mime artist Michel Orphelin, and was written by British playwright Hugh Steadman Williams, with music by Kathleen Johnson, also British. Michel Orphelin presented the play – in its French or English version (Poor Man, Rich Man) – in many countries over the next decade.

Su Riddell left her job as a secretary in Paris to join the backstage team as Assistant Stage Manager, aged 21, in June 1980. She toured with the play in Europe and North America for the next three years. These extracts from her letters to her parents describe the start of the adventure.


Su Riddell in Paris, around 1980
Su in Paris, around 1980


Monday 30 June, 1980


We were six in the minibus leaving Paris, including Michel Orphelin, French actor, singer and mime artist; Annie (French) who will project the backdrop slides; François, Michel’s son who will be on sound; and Peter, British pianist.

It was a lovely sunny day. We stopped for morning coffee, then a picnic in a field once we’d turned off the motorway, more coffee by a fierce and swollen river, then through the rugged and wild Jura, and lovely mellow old towns, to the Swiss border. Driving along by Lac Léman, we could see Caux from afar, but the mountains were hidden in mist.

As soon as we arrived, we met the rest of our team: Claude, French, taking on the show’s administration; and Gunnar and Christian, Swedish technicians. We are rather international for a French show.

We are rather international for a French show.


Tuesday 17 July, 1980


I’ll tell you about the first show. We all had dinner together but were rather subdued (that means normal compared to other people at Caux). We had a meeting first, backstage, said a prayer, then went to our places. The audience flooded in, I let the orchestra out (men in dinner suits, Kathleen in a long dress) and off we went. I made myself calm down and all went fine, point of view audience.

Su Riddell 1980 credit B Roscher
Su Riddell, 1980

In fact we’d all made mistakes. Mine are rarely visible, but are a question of timing. The audience doesn’t know what is meant to happen, but we all do and especially me.

I only totalled three or four bad cues, and John D, the director, was very pleased. I enjoyed my ‘world première’. Oh, but then….

Michel Orphelin Poor man rich man programme
Leaflet of Un soleil en pleine nuit

Marketta had laid out a cold meal, lots of fizzy drinks, and coffee, so we all sat in the kitchen at a long table (flowers and all). Surrounded by pots and pans and huge steel ovens. Michel, on entering, had a standing ovation.

When eventually we’d finished eating, a piano was dragged in (right into the kitchen) and we had a sing-song, and played games (there were 14 of us.) At about 1:30am the party split up, we got the kitchen back to its usual impeccable-ness and went to bed. It was terrific.

Meanwhile, I’m finding out how little I know about faith, and just seeing how long the road is I have to travel. I’m afraid I may start enthusiastic, and get tired soon. I hope that by keeping things in a worldwide perspective I can balance the personal perspective.

I hope that by keeping things in a worldwide perspective I can balance the personal perspective.

This is all terribly easy here at Caux. Back in Paris, back to city life and my friends, it will be all too easy to forget, to lose sight of the goal, to lose a sense of the importance of God’s work. Mountains are inspiring places. Please, can you help me remember? I know God will keep me heading the right way, but I’m so afraid of losing the joy, the freshness, the peace, I have found here.


Poor man rich man crew Su Riddell
Cast meeting


In the summer of 1983, when the play’s initial tour came to an end, the cast was back in Caux. Su wrote:


Un Soleil en Pleine Nuit has meant a new start in life for me. I’ve given my life to God, and he knows what I need, he knows more about me than I do. He has a plan for the world too, and I want to be part of that. So day by day I’ll go wherever he leads me.


Read the script of Un soleil en pleine nuit

Discover the programme of Un soleil ne pleine nuit




Watch a video of the play (1985)




This story is part of our series 75 Years of Stories about individuals who found new direction and inspiration through Caux, one for each year from 1946 to 2021. If you know a story appropriate for this series, please do pass on your ideas by email to John Bond or Yara Zhgeib. If you would like to know more about the early years of Initiatives of Change and the conference centre in Caux please click here and visit the platform For A New World.


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