NOT before time, the York Mystery Plays will return to the Museum Gardens next year for the first time since 1988.

Not before time too, York Theatre Royal is staging Anthony Minghella’s Two Planks And A Passion, his 1993 play set around a staging of the Mystery Plays on Corpus Christi in 1392.

It stands as a production in its own right as part of the Theatre Royal’s In The Round season in the re-configured main house, but also is a forerunner for next summer’s partnership between the Theatre Royal and York’s Christian theatre company, Riding Lights.

They are co-operating rather more fruitfully than the rival guilds that are preparing to stage wagon plays in Minghella’s story, where the surprise arrival of King Richard II, his ailing wife, Queen Anne, and the supposedly exiled Earl of Oxford sends everyone from the Mayor downwards into a display of affectation, posturing and ill-afforded expense.

Both York companies have provided a co-director: the Theatre Royal’s associate director Juliet Forster and Riding Lights artistic director Paul Burbridge, who have worked together and separately with two casts drawn from the York community, divided into the Masons and Tailors to alternate performances between them.

Three members of the Theatre Royal ensemble company for this season – Jonathan Race’s Richard, Emily Pithon’s Luxembourg-accented Anne and Michael Lambourne’s agent provocateur Oxford – sprinkle professional gold dust over the amateur ranks, who respond heartily to the twin demands of performing a near-three hour play and projecting the voice in the round.

Staged on Dawn Allsopp’s wooden stage with stairways and trapdoors, Minghella’s rousing drama combines scenes from the York plays with an off-stage story of in-fighting with echoes of Michael Frayn’s Noises Off and Alan Ayckbourn’s A Chorus Of Disapproval.

The Tailors were the cast for Tuesday’s sweltering press night and they acquitted themselves well in a play that is too slow to hit its stride in an over-long first half but finds its feet after the interval, even if a few minutes could have been trimmed off that half too.

Race, Pithon and Lambourne all excel, working comedy off each other as well as the York denizens, but the community players are not to be outdone. Rebecca Beattie is outstanding as the self-seeking, social-climbing Kathryn, wife to Maurice Crichton’s amusingly exasperated mayoral wannabe, Geoffrey, while Paul Stonehouse is as good as ever as the not-wholly-religious Father Melton.

Mandy Newby has fun playing the Mayor’s wife with the out-of-control competitive streak and Rory Mulvihill ekes broad comedy from the mickey-taking Will. David Jarman, meanwhile, is bang on as the Devil with the explosive backside.

Praise too for Christopher Madin’s array of beautiful early music and the diversity of Anna Gooch’s costume designs.

The first half needs one of the Devil’s bombs under it to speed it up, but what follows is as much fun as you can have with a Mystery Play.

Two Planks And A Passion, York Theatre Royal In The Round, until July 16. Box office: 01904 623568 or