This is the year that heralds the long awaited return of the York Mystery Plays, reintroduced as part of the York 800 celebrations, marking the 800th anniversary of York becoming a self-governing city. As an extra treat accompanying the return of a much loved tradition for York residents, the Mystery Plays will be held in Museum Gardens, with St Mary’s Abbey as the backdrop. Damian Cruden, Co Artistic Director describes this move as ‘Putting the story back into the right space [St Mary’s Abbey] the plays are naturally set in museum gardens, it is a truly public space.’
The plays have always been played by the residents of York, this year, there has been a considered effort to utilise a much younger cast for the plays, again Damian Cruden explains, ‘this is a contemporary project and has so many young people in it so they can carry the tradition on’.
Two, of the many young people involved in the enterprise, include the very first man and woman, Adam and Eve played by Harry Lee, 18 and Laura Soper, 17. We caught up with them…
Is this your first proper production?
Harry: No – we both performed in Peter Pan last summer here at the Theatre Royal and in a production of Wind in the Willows.
How are you finding the experience so far?
Harry: It’s a lot of work.
Laura: We don’t know what is happening fully yet, we keep getting told new things all the time.
Where do you intend to go from this experience?
Harry: It will be great on my CV, I will be going to drama school this autumn.
Laura: This can help with anything we try in the future, I just want to act, in whatever I can get.
How do you feel about performing in St Mary’s Abbey?
Harry: It reflects the community spirit.
Laura: This is not going to happen again, it’s never going to be quite so large.
How do you think you can attract a younger audience?
Harry: There are a lot more young people involved in the entire thing.
Laura: All the costumes have been updated too.
What about the religious aspect, what would you say to people who might be put off?
Harry: There are 2 atheists, 1 Christian and 1 Jew involved that I know of, there are no issues of religion.
Laura: Don’t be put off, while there is a religious theme it doesn’t create a divide, it’s still a story for everyone.
What is one word to describe how you’re feeling about this so far?
Mike Kenny, know for his adaptation of E Nesbit’s The Railway Children, is the author behind the composition of the 48 stories into one big production for theatre. Paul Burbridge, Co Artistic Director, reveals ‘the plays are more accessible, with updated language, and young cast and more equality between the men and women’.
The whole team are keen to express the importance of this as a community project which they want people to feel part of; closeness has been designed into the production including the stage which promises to be the largest theatre stage in the country, using St Mary’s Abbey as the backdrop for the colossus. Other treats in this already brimming endeavour include a set design inspired by the British artist Stanley Spencer, famous for his piece entitled Crucifixion. There will also be two young professional actors gracing the stage, yet to be announced. The plays will be running from the August 2 through to August 27, get ticket, get involved, be a part of something.