2012 York Mystery Plays will break with tradition

Dame Judi Dench, second right, plays an angel in the York Mystery Plays of 1951

Dame Judi Dench, second right, plays an angel in the York Mystery Plays of 1951

First published in News by

THE 2012 York Mystery Plays in the York Museum Gardens will be costumed in 1940s and 1950s clothing.

“We’re not setting the Plays in the year 1951 but telling them from that period,” revealed Damian Cruden, artistic director of York Theatre Royal, which is co-producing this summer’s production with Riding Lights Theatre Company and York Museums Trust.

1951 was the year when the York Cycle of Mystery Plays were revived for the first time since their suppression in 1569 and also made their debut in the Museum Gardens, rather than being staged on pageant wagons in the streets of York.

Using a text by Canon J S Purvis, the Plays were the centrepiece of the York Festival of the Arts as part of the 1951 Festival of Britain.

For 2012, York playwright Mike Kenny has written a new adaptation where the central thrust will be God’s need to come to Earth in the form of Jesus to engage with his troubled creation.

“We have chosen to tell the story from 1951 and the reason we’re doing that is there are three important periods for the York Mystery Plays,” said Mr Cruden.

“The late 1300s, when they started, was the first; then, their suppression in the 1560s; and then 1951, when Canon Purvis’s new translation was written.

“Why was there a need for us to tell the story from 1951? We’d been through two World Wars in quick succession, and in the first half of the 20th century, we were as close to Armageddon as Man had ever been. That is undeniable.”

Christ came to Earth at a point in time when there was a sense of the human experiment having not worked, said Mr Cruden, and that story was told again in 1951, not only to show off the Festival of Britain, but because it was a story that had to be told again.

“Now, in order for the Plays to remain alive and have a future, there has to be recognition that they are stories of our time, and we can look back at the whole of the 20th century as being of our time,” he added.

The 2012 York Mystery Plays will run from August 2 to 27.

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