York Mystery Plays

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The Plays Move On

The Plays continued to be performed outdoors in the ruins of St Mary's Abbey each three or four years, until 1988. Roger Farrington as Noh 1988
Occasionally an evening show had to be cancelled but the audiences were well used to packing umbrellas, blankets, and flasks of tea. They took the English summer's vagaries in their stride. Technicians grew used to wearing rain macs or sun tan lotion. The actors who played the part of Christ loved, or hated, the experience of standing for hours in the sometimes chilly Yorkshire weather as the sun faded behind St Olave's Church and the Museum Garden peacocks screeched their personal farewell to the evening light.

But circumstances changed and in 1992, York City Council moved the production indoors to York Theatre Royal after abandoning plans for the plays to be a promenade performance in the Museum Gardens. (See archive cuttings.) The production, which featured Robson Green as Christ and was directed by Ian Forrest, was very different from anything seen before. Some applauded the modern, mechanistic direction and music, others felt that the plays had lost their romance. A second production, directed by John Doyle with local actor Rory Mulvihill, took place in 1996, also with a script by Liz Lochhead.

The indoor/outdoor debate continued.  Then came the Millennium production in the nave of York Minster, with the permission of the Dean and Chapter, in 2000. Rev. Dean Ray Furnell recorded an interview for the NCEM about his experiences. Here is the cast list and here are photographs of the production.
York Minster 1999
Support for this website and archive from the Dean and Chapter continues, through the Board of York Millennium Mystery Plays.  
In 2016 the Plays were again spectacularly produced in the Minster, with a record 41 performances.  Roger Farrington (top) again played Noah.

 
In Museum Gardens in 2012, the cast were outdoors but the audience sheltered.  This version, presented by York Theatre Royal and Riding Lights Theatre Company, supported by York Museums Trust and City of York Council had new music by Christopher Madin and a script by York writer Mike Kenny.  See here for photographs, or here for a cast list.  The Creation and the Flood were performed on wagons to accompany this, on 11 and 12 August 2012.
Below left, the Magi worship the new-born Christ (2012).  Below right, the resurrected Christ (2016).
Nativity 2012

The Play cycle has been performed on wagons in 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014.  The York Guilds are planning another Cycle for summer 2018.

As part of the celebration of York 800 in 2012, the City Archivist organised an exhibition of York's archive material, at the central library. The Mystery Plays featured in this display, using images from the City Archives, the National Centre for Early Music and the National Railway Museum's poster collection. The Yorkshire Museum's York 800 exhibition included the City Archive's manuscript of the Scriveners' Play and the medieval Pageant Accounts of the Mercers' Wagon Play, from the Merchant Adventurers' archives.
Philip McGinley, 2016


For the 2016 production, see this page.