Heaven guides new York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust interpretation of A Nativity for York at Spurriergate Centre

Heaven’s above: Alan Heaven directing a rehearsal of A Nativity for York. All pictures: John Saunders

A NATIVITY for York returns to the Spurriergate Centre, Spurriergate, York, on Thursday after a two-year enforced break, under the direction of the divinely named Alan Heaven.

Mounted by York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust (YMPST), the production will run for eight performances, preceded by an open dress rehearsal at 7.30pm on Wednesday.

After directing the Last Judgement plays in the York Mystery Plays Wagon cycles on the city streets in 2018 and 2022, Heaven has created a new interpretation of the Nativity, combining “music, dance, sorrows and joys and some audience participation”.

It may be unlucky to open an umbrella indoors, as the saying insists, but York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust cast members, led by Mark Comer, take their chances in the rehearsal room. All pictures: John Saunders

Billed as a fresh, vibrant and magical retelling of the Nativity, based on the York Cycle of Mystery Plays, A Nativity for York features actors, dancers and musicians drawn from a wide range of community volunteers, in keeping with the YMPST productions of A Nativity for York in 2019 and A Resurrection for York in 2021.

Work began on the production in October, and although Covid among nine of the 16-strong cast has disrupted rehearsals in recent weeks, preparations are almost complete for the hour-long performances on Thursday and Friday at 7.30pm, then Saturday and Sunday at 3pm, 5pm and 7.30pm.

“The story is quite familiar but, in order to keep the play dynamic, we have focused on the cast putting every ounce of their energy into their parts, so that they engage with the audience,” says Alan.

“Keeping the play dynamic”: Anastasia Crook’s Mary rehearses a scene that testifies to the movement skills of director Alan Heaven

“Hopefully, as they work together – and most have multiple roles – through all 12 scenes, the result will be a positive and community-minded experience.” 

Heaven, an experienced director specialising in Early Modern theatre practice, community theatre, street theatre, movement and puppetry, is also a playwright, actor, musician, artist, illustrator and film maker.

He first worked with the York Mystery Plays in 2008 and has done so regularly since then, as well as adapting and staging the entire York Mystery Plays corpus for families. 

A restful moment for Michael Maybridge’s Joseph during rehearsals

Delighted to be working with the YMPST on this week’s new Nativity, he says: “It’s a real honour to be entrusted with these texts, which are such a vital part of York`s heritage. I hope to deliver a production that develops the rich and vibrant contrasts of the originals.

“There’ll be comedy and celebrations along with music, dance and song, next to the savagery of Herod and the struggle to escape his reach. This is a wonderful and exciting journey that will involve the audience and thrill and delight everyone involved.”

Tickets are on sale at £10, students and under 18s £6, on 01904 623568, at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or in person from the Theatre Royal box office.