YORK Theatre Royal and York Christian theatre company Riding Lights are uniting for this month’s production of Anthony Minghella’s Two Planks And A Passion, just as they will be for next summer’s York Mystery Plays in the Museum Gardens in tandem with York Museums Trust.
Given that Minghella’s play is set around the Mystery Plays in Midsummer 1392 and will be performed by a community cast, it can be seen as a dry run, or at least a stepping stone, en route to the August 2012 production.
Running from Friday as part of the Theatre Royal’s In The Round ensemble season, Two Planks is set in the shadow of York Minster as labourers from the Painters’ Guild prepare to perform their Mystery play for the festival of Corpus Christi.
To their surprise, King Richard II and the ailing Queen Ann arrive in the city to escape the political intrigues of the London Court. Suddenly, from the Lord Mayor to the marketplace, the entire community of York explodes in a fever of affectation, expense and posturing as rival guilds battle it out to impress the royal party with their wagon plays.
This month’s production is being co-directed by Theatre Royal associate director Juliet Forster and Riding Lights artistic director Paul Burbridge. “It’s a very auspicious moment for York to be doing this play, a year before next summer’s Mystery Plays. It’s the perfect time,” says Paul.
“The theme of Minghella’s play has you thinking: are there lessons to be learnt about what spirit you do the Plays in; how a production should serve the Plays, not the people putting them on?”
Juliet concurs. “Damian [Theatre Royal artistic director Damian Cruden] and I had a discussion that Two Planks would be the perfect learning curve for next year, putting on a play with community involvement,” she says.
“It was also a chance to seek people beyond those regularly involved in staging the Mystery Plays in York,” says Paul.
“So we’ve doubled up with two community casts of 25, both working with three professional actors from this season’s ensemble company, and we also have quite a large group of stage managers and a big group of costume makers and wardrobe assistants.”
Alongside the ensemble trio of Michael Lambourne, Jonathan Race and Emily Pithon, the community company for Two Planks amounts to 70 on stage and off, all of them gaining potentially invaluable experience for 2012.
“As soon as the run ends, there will be a special evening to launch the Mystery Plays, to say to people in all walks of community life, ‘Come along, see what you can do and how you can be involved next summer’,” says Paul. Watch this space for further details on this July 18 event.
• Two Planks And A Passion runs at York Theatre Royal from Friday to July 16, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinees. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk
Did you know?
Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle directed a stage production of Two Planks And A Passion at Greenwich, London, in 1984.