The Guardian - 16 August 2012

Alfred Hickling

 

York Mystery Plays 2012

5 Stars

 

In the beginning was the word, and the word was nowt. "I am maker unmade, nowt is but me," declares God in Mike Kenny's adaptation of the medieval religious dramas, compiled by anonymous hands (including the colloquial master known as the York Realist) but united in stubborn conviction that God was a Yorkshireman.

The production marks a return, after 24 years, to what many feel to be the cycle's natural home, outdoors among the ruins of St Mary's abbey . It remains a truly spectacular location; the stage teeming with some 250 local performers against a row of gaunt, gothic arches that, as darkness descends, appear to take a giant bite out of the night sky.

Co-directors Damian Cruden and Paul Burbridge have opted to go back to the future. The action has a fustian, postwar look that seems a nod towards the plays' original revival for the Festival of Britain celebrations in 1951 , but also draws inspiration from the visionary tableaux of Stanley Spencer an artist uniquely able to reveal the numinous through headscarves and Fair Isle sweaters.

The impressive Ferdinand Kingsley plays both God and Jesus, an interpretive risk that comes to fruition on the cross, where the forsaken figure appears to represent mankind's loss of faith in himself. Kenny's sensitive revision of the verse is taut and muscular, while the rhythmic boasting of Graeme Hawley's Lucifer ("the beams of my brightness are bigged with the best") suggests that the anonymous, middle-English wordsmiths had already sown the seeds of hip-hop.

Many images linger: the topiary animals of a neatly tended garden of Eden, the ark scything through a sea of umbrellas. But mostly one is buoyed by the euphoric swell of many hundreds of volunteers converging to celebrate the heritage of their city. They call this God's own country: here's proof.

The Guardian
 

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