THE campaign to save York's Mystery Plays has been boosted by news that a rival northern city's production has been financially successful.

Chester Mystery Plays have finished after a run that drew critical acclaim and some sell-out audiences, along with extensive coverage in the local and regional media.

Organisers say that while bills are still coming in, the production should at least break even, "or a bit better than that".

Tourism bosses say the performances on the green in front of Chester Cathedral have resulted in many extra bookings for local accommodation.

Newspaper and radio coverage will also provide long-term benefits for tourism by improving the city's image and profile.

The Plays' success in the north's other great historic city may prove an inspiration to York volunteers who have come forward to form a board, with the aim of staging the Plays here again in 2005. Chester's event had a smaller audience capacity than has traditionally been the case in York. The covered stand could seat only 680 people, compared to the 1,000 capacity of York Minster in 2000 and an even higher figure when the Plays were last staged in York Museum Gardens in 1988.

Even so, more than 12,000 tickets were sold at Chester, with some people turning up and having to be turned away, said spokesman Colin McNae.

He said that after taking account of corporate sponsorship and funding from Chester City Council and Cheshire County Council, the Plays should at the very least "break even or a bit better."

He said the performances had been reviewed on radio stations such as BBC Radio Merseyside and in regional papers such as the Liverpool Daily Post.

Chester Tourism Development Officer Gerald Tattum said there would be long-term benefits to tourism from such coverage, and many people had stayed overnight in local accommodation.

The full economic benefits to the city were still to be assessed, probably this autumn, he added.

Mr McNae said the Plays would be staged in Chester again in 2008, when it may be associated with Liverpool's year as European City of Culture.

He said it was important that the board which runs the Plays remained active over coming years to ensure continuity.