The Press - 25 August 2012 (2nd Review)


Charles Hutchinson


York Mystery Plays 2012


Already the 30,000 attendance target has been exceeded, and still five opportunities remain to see Britain’s biggest outdoor theatre event of 2012.

The streets of York may lay prior claim to the city’s medieval Mystery Plays and long may the Guilds parade them on wagons, but this summer the Plays have returned “home”, re-bonded with St Mary’s Abbey, its ruins and the York sky above.

They have done so with a combination of a £1 million budget, a 1,400-seater thrust stage… and something money can’t buy: the community spirit of the cast, choir, musicians, costume makers, backstage helpers and documentary photographers, a list that runs beyond the 1,000 mark.

When David Cameron was talking of the Big Society in an amorphous way that no one could quite comprehend, without suspecting it must be a cost-saving exercise for central government, the concept of the big society minus the capital letters was grasped by London 2012’s Games Makers and the York Mystery Plays 2012.

Comparisons between the Olympics and the 2012 Plays have involved more than a flame burning above a sculpture (a DNA double helix in Sean Cavanagh’s York set design). A sermon at my village church in Markington made the link, not least linking the epic scale of Damian Cruden and Paul Burbridge’s production to Danny Boyle’s Opening Ceremony.

There is a moment in the first half when Mike Kenny’s dialogue dies away, replaced by noise and fury symbolising the First World War and ethnic cleansing: images so powerful and harrowing, that resonate through the years, like Boyle’s British history lesson.

Your reviewer has seen the Plays twice, first the Potters cast and now the Carpenters, and while you might pick out individual performances from Thursday – Lydia Onyett as Mary, Tom Jackson’s Pilate, Rosy Rowley’s Mother Noah – it is as much the ensemble that will live in the memory. Especially the Flood, as a mass of humanity, little children included, shielded under umbrellas that turned into a raging, dark sea.

Here’s a rush of final thoughts. Yorkshire is God’s own language. Having a young God in Ferdinand Kingsley made his journey more Hamlet than King Lear. Casting women as disciples, shepherdesses, soldiers and a robber reflected the world now, post the Second World War watershed of the 1950s setting. Christopher Madin’s music for choir, brass band and recorded orchestra deserves a theatre award; Anna Gooch’s costumes likewise.

The first half, from Stanley Spencer imagery for Creation to its ending with Agnus Dei and a solo euphonium, is the most memorable sequence of scenes this critic has ever experienced. The second half? I’ll leave you to make the last judgement.

York Press


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Recent News

Join us at the Visit York Tourism Awards!

Join us at the Visit York Tourism Awards!
Were you a York Mystery Plays 2012 volunteer? Do you want to join us at the Visit York Tourism Awards 2013?

2012 Production Nominated For 2 Awards

2012 Production Nominated For 2 Awards
The Visit York 2013 Award nominations have been announced with York Mystery Plays 2012 up for 2 titles.

York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust formed

York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust formed
A group of people involved in York Mystery Plays 2012 launch a new group to support future productions.

York Mystery Plays 2012 shortlisted for award

York Mystery Plays 2012 shortlisted for award
The marketing campaign for the York Mystery Plays 2012 has been shortlisted for a prestigious TMA award.