AS a complement and contrast to the 2012 Mysteries in the Museum Gardens, the Guilds and Companies of York will “bring forth” two special performances of plays from the York Mystery Plays this weekend.
Since 1998, the York Guilds have, through their charity York Festival Trust, created pageant wagon spectaculars on the city streets, just as on Corpus Christi Day in medieval times.
These city-centre performances have been held every four years, the last time being in 2010, and they have involved around 400 people in all manner of roles, bringing drama and pageantry to visitors and York residents alike.
The next production will be in July 2014, but as part of a York Mystery Plays symposium and performance weekend, The Creation To The Fifth Day and Noah will be performed on wagons tomorrow and Sunday at two locations, the West End of the Minster and College Green, the first play at 11.30am and 12.10pm, the second at 11.30am and 12.40pm.
These free performances are open to all and will be preceded by a wagon procession to the performance stations at 11am.
The York Guild of Building is performing Creation, directed by Tony Ravenhall, head of drama at York College , who is doubly busy at present as he is also playing Joseph in the Museum Gardens production.
God will be played by Steve Bielby, the guild’s clerk; the wagon will be operated by guild members; and the music will be provided by members of the City of York Council Choir.
“This production will make use of their wonderfully animated pageant wagon which we have used to open all our productions of the wagon plays and is always a great hit,” says Roger Lee, chairman of York Festival Trust. “The wagon was designed by the Guild and has evolved over the years with new surprised each time.”
Charles Hunt, ghost walk guide, foreign student tutor, The Press reviewer and wagon play enthusiast, is directing Noah for the resurrected Fishers and Mariners Guild.
“This disbanded guild used to present Noah or The Flood, so I’ve made a new guild banner for them, and I’ve talked to the fish stall holders on Newgate Market who will provide some fish for Mrs Noah to gut,” says Charles.
Mike Rogers has designed the wagon for this weekend’s performances. “It’s based on a German design that had all the animals you could think of, though we’ll have just a dog, cat and a rat, depicted in a 2D stylised version,” says Charles.
“But our big coup de theatre is a real raven and real doves. The raven is Her Majesty the Queen’s raven Gabriel, from the Tower Of London, who now lives at Knaresborough Castle, where they have their own ravens, and the doves come from Dovejoy in Batley, where they’ll fly back to. We couldn’t get a real one to fly back to the ark so that’ll have to be a stuffed one.”
Jeremy Muldowney, a familiar face from York Shakespeare Project productions, will play Noah – an apt choice as it turns out because he is an experienced sailor with his own boat and once sailed the world on the Golden Hind.
Janice Barnes Newton – who is also performing in the Museum Gardens production – will take the role of Mrs Noah and the sons and daughters will be played by members of the HIDden Players, an offshoot of the Lords Of Misrule.
“I believe the wagon plays are so important, alongside productions at St Mary’s Abbey,” says Charles. “We’re using a version of Noah’s play based on Dr Mike Tyler’s essay. It’s a beautiful play, a spectacular play, and I like the way that the message is open. You can see it as a forerunner of the coming of Christ and as a coming together of the family.”
The popularity of Mystery Plays has grown over the past few years with groups in Chester, Coventry and Litchfield regularly performing their own plays. In Lincoln, Durham, Aldermarston, Gloucester, Manchester and Cardiff, plays have either been borrowed from other cities or new scripts created from original texts. “The power of these plays as community drama and their ability to speak to the religious and non-religious audience alike is remarkable,” says Roger.
Hence a symposium is being held at the National Centre for Early Music, Walmgate, tomorrow, following on from the wagon performances, to provide the chance to learn more about the myriad Mystery Plays.
Confirmed speakers include practitioners Steve Bielby and Tony Wright; Jo Sykes, chair of Chester Mystery Plays; Phil McCormick, chair of Gloucester Mystery Plays; Rebecca Sutherland, producer of Lincoln Mystery Plays; and Ros Hallifax, chair of Lichfield Mysterys.
The symposium is open to everyone at a charge of £15, including refreshments and afternoon tea. Bookings can be made online at yorkmysteryplays.co.uk.
On Sunday morning, York Festival Trust will host a morning network session at the Bedern Hall before the wagon performances. At 2pm, a lecture will be given by Dr Mike Tyler, director of the York Guilds production in 2002 and 2006, and Paul Toy, the 2010 director, supported by Lesley Wilkinson, his co-director that year, at Tempest Anderson Hall, Museum Gardens. Tickets can be booked on 01904 623568.