Seeing the spectacle of 250 people on sage against the stunning backdrop of St Mary’s Abbey is worth the ticket prices alone. The huge narrative sweep of the mystery cycle from Creation to Last Judgement provides Directors Damien Cruddock (York Theatre Royal) and Paul Burbridge (Riding Lights) a broad canvas which moves from the touchingly intimate to the gloriously epic.You can see the project for yourself by tuning in to The Space on Saturday when it is being live streamed by Pilot Theatre / Kinura in an experiment which allows you to vision mix (or in other words choose where you look!) In the afternoon we’d been taken round the site by Liz Wilson – chief executive of York Theatre Royal and former Eastern Angles marketing manager. We were on a fact finding mission in preparation for both the Peterborough Community Play (in summer 2014) and other potential EA projects currently in the research and development phase.
Not surprisingly we quickly learnt just how much work had gone into a project of this scale. Following an open call back in Septemmber 2011 the 500 commuunity cast (two teams of 250) began rehearsing nightly and every Saturday in April. The volunteer costume team have been working even longer – 80 of them – sourcing, making and altering costumes since January. In all over 1,500 local people have been involved. At that kind of scale the Mystery Plays is about 5 times the size of the Peterborough Community Play but there was lots to learn and we all came away with reams of notes.
It’s that extra-ordinary commitment of the volunteer cast and crew that really drives the production giving it a gloriously rough energy that is totally true to the original medieval tradition (it will be interesting to see if that same spirit comes across online). It’s also an energy – which channelled in the performance becomes boisterous and exuberant in the pub post show. A reminder that at it’s heart The York Mysteries is a community coming together, celebrating and enjoying itself.