With the Mystery Plays fast approaching we chat with Ferdinand Kingsley about the task that lies ahead of him.
In the first York Mystery Plays in twelve years, Ferdinand Kingsley will play not one but two roles; both God the Father and Jesus.
The son of Oscar-winning actor Sir Ben Kingsley, Ferdinand is one of two professional actors performing alongside hundreds of local amateurs. Graeme Hawley, the actor well-known for his role as ‘bad guy’ John Stape in Coronation Street, will play the role of The Devil. (Read Graeme Hawley’s exclusive interview with One&Other here.)
Ferdinand, who has performed in productions for The National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company, said he was “delighted” to accept the roles and is “massively looking forward to it”.
In an exclusive interview with One&Other, Ferdinand revealed his surprise when his agent put him up for both roles; “I said ‘Do you mean God or Jesus?’ and they said ‘No both!’ and I thought ‘that’s mad’ and I thought ‘that could be really scary’ and then… that both those things are great! The fact that it’s scary, and it’s challenging, something in me just went ‘yeah this is really exciting.’”
When asked how he planned on distinguishing between the different roles, Ferdinand replied; “That’s the interesting thing because, are they different? The more you think about it, the less mad it is. Whatever you’re understanding of the story is, they’re either father and son, or they’re the same thing, or they’re both. When I’m there, as Jesus on the cross, talking to my father, who am I talking to? Well you’re talking to God but you’re also having to talk to yourself.”
But Ferdinand explains that playing God the Father won’t be easy. “I can’t play him as a cloud floating in the sky; you can’t play omniscience and omnipotent. Otherwise there would be no drama.”
“We’re making no secret of the fact that I’m 24, and that this is a young man who’s created something huge and then has to deal with it. And he has these children, Adam and Eve and all of mankind, who he then has a responsibility for, and who let him down. Who really make mistakes, and who disappoint him, and who scare him, and who he’s worried about losing…[So it] magically feels really unpretentious playing God and talking to The Devil and talking to angles. You know, you feel like a man. It’s brilliant.”
The York Mystery Plays will be performed on a huge custom-made outdoor theatre in the Museum Gardens, with the stunningly scenic St Mary’s Abby as its backdrop. Despite the large scale of the production, Ferdinand claims it will make the experience more “intimate and direct” than in a theatre, whilst also making it easier for him to act.
“If you’re in a theatre with five people on stage, you’re having to do extra work. Here when you’re outside with these people, if you talk to the skies or you talk to the heavens, you’re actually talking to the sky and heaven. If you talk to the earth you talk to mud and grass; it’s brilliant… If as God or Jesus I’m talking to hundreds of people, or preaching to three hundred people, I am. Or being crucified in front of a group of people, I am.
“When I’m on the cross as Jesus, physically and emotionally vulnerable and exposed, and I’m surrounded by five hundred people on my right, left and behind me, and then three hundred people on stage watching, with any luck I won’t have to act! … My character’s about to die, this amazing story is coming towards a close; my job then will just be to let it in.”
Even as a professional actor, Ferdinand admits there are aspects of the play that he is anxious about performing. “The crucifixion is terrifying; I think it’s going to be quite disturbing and quite hard to watch. [But] absolutely in a good way. As all hard hitting bits of theatre should be, you the audience should go ‘Oh god, I’m sort of in this play’. If we get those moments right then the audience will feel like people watching the guy being crucified. So I am sort of scared and really excited about those bits.”
The York Mystery Plays will take place from 2 to 27 August, and has already sold well over 10,000 tickets. Ferdinand says “it’s going to be a real festival atmosphere…and it’s something that is totally designed to bring everyone together.”
“It absolutely is accessible, I don’t want to use the word ‘irrelevant’ about religion for it because obviously for some people it has a huge resonance in their religion, in their beliefs, but at the end of the day they are just amazing stories.”
When given the challenge to sum up the York Mystery Plays in 5 words, Ferdinand took it very seriously, and his thoughtful expression showed deep consideration. His poetic response was that the plays will prove to be “shared, unpretentious, unique, celebratory and vibrant.” Pleased with his answer he added; “Let me see if I can do a sentence… ‘It will be great.’ How’s that for imagination!”