The Stage - 9 August 2012

Will Ramsey

 

York Mystery Plays 2012

 

God, at the start of the York Mystery Plays, is seen feverishly scribbling equations in chalk.

That his careful planning will prove a little wonky - in that mankind will, repeatedly, let him down - is all part of the drive of Mike Kenny’s adaptation.

The Biblical drama - staged on a multi-layered wooden set built into the walls of St Mary’s Abbey - becomes a gripping story of human greed and hubris. With what appear to be echoes of the Second World War - the look of the drama was inspired by the religious-themed paintings of Stanley Spencer - the production draws parallels with the horrors of the 20th century: here, King Herod, with his black cape and jack-boots, struts about like a Nazi commander.

Against this backdrop, God, Christ and Satan seem less religious figures as men trying to make sense of the world. Graeme Hawley’s malevolence as the Devil seems all the more unsettling for his everyman look - alongside his neat, blond hair, his costume includes a flat cap and braces.

As God, Ferdinand Kingsley is boyishly enthusiastic and, as Christ, touchingly gentle in the face of brutality he’s subjected to.

Backed by a wonderfully well-drilled group of community players - some 500 actors alternate the roles across the run - the production shimmers with life.

There’s humour - including the entreaties of Noah for his formidable Yorkshire wife to board the ark - and spectacle: a massed choir; bursts of flame from a towering brazier; and an ingenious stage set which, with its multiple trap doors, allows the cast to pop up from, or down to, the Hell that waits beneath.

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