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”.
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.
“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.
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.
A Resurrection For York, Residents Garden, Minster Library, Dean’s Park, York
HAPPENSTANCE may have led to this pandemic-delayed production being staged at the Residents Garden in Dean’s Park, but A Resurrection For York made a compelling case for the York Mystery Plays to take up residence there.
The gardens are self-contained, behind iron railings that facilitate curious passers-by taking a look; the acoustics are clear, without echo; the Minster bells chime on the quarter hour to both complement and compliment the atmosphere, and the setting is perfect for open-air theatre: spacious, green and on a hillock that cries out to be used for moments of high drama or an important monologue.
As Saturday morning’s audience gathered under grey clouds, Philip Parr’s cast members for this York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust, York Festival Trust and York Minster tripartite production were already in situ for the first of six performances in two days.
The premise was that they were playing pilgrims, two canvas tents pitched at the back, everyone in walking boots, with roll-up sleeping mats, blankets, rucksacks and picnics in Enid Blyton retro brown paper bags.
Intentionally, community cast and community audience became indistinguishable: we were all in this together, albeit socially distanced; pilgrims all, gathered to tell each other stories, led by Nick Jones and Sally Maybridge’s exhorting narrators.
From this canvas would emerge Parr’s Pilgrims, dotted around the grass, some staying in that guise, others taking on specific roles, both alongside and on the two static wagons rolled out for significant scenes, one to set the cross in place.
The cross always will be the most potent symbol of the York Mystery Plays, and here it was especially central to Parr and 2018 York Mystery Plays director Tom Straszewski’s hour-long story, adapted from the Mystery Plays cycle of the crucifixion and the events that followed.
The most powerful image was in fact an absence, the dying Christ being represented instead by a shroud, wrapped around the cross pulled high by the grafting soldiers, one declaring himself too tired to finish the task in one of those brief interjections of humour that the Mystery Plays – the street theatre of its time – suddenly throw up.
The shroud became the motif woven through Parr’s production, daubed in blood, later folded up across a wagon to signify Christ’s body placed in the tomb by Joseph of Arimathea (Tony Froud), and then being worn by a tall, dark-haired figure, again emerging from the crowd.
In keeping with medieval tradition, the pilgrim playing Christ was not credited, although a reference to “plus David Denbigh” in the list supplied to CharlesHutchPress may indicate it was him.
Judith Ireland’s Mary, Mother of Jesus, and Emily Hansen’s Mary Magdalene stood out in a cast strong on diction and clear delivery. Music played its part too, largely acappella, choral or folk, with minimal accompaniment, and used sparingly but sung lustily or movingly.
What comes next? 2022 is very likely to see the York Mystery Plays being staged on wagons in June, maybe at the Residents Garden. Watch this space.
AWAY from all that football, Charles Hutchinson finds plenty of cause for cheer beyond chasing an inflated pig’s bladder, from a late-change comedy bill to Ayckbourn on film, York artists to a park bench premiere.
Late substitution of the week: Byrne out, Jones in, for Live At The Theatre Royal comedy night, York Theatre Royal, tonight, 7.30pm
ED Byrne will not top the Live At The Theatre Royal comedy bill tonight after all. “We are sorry to announce that due to circumstances beyond our control, Ed is now unable to appear,” says the official statement.
The whimsical Irish comedian subsequently has tweeted his “You Need To Self-Isolate” notification, running until 23.59pm on July 7.
Well equipped to take over at short notice is the quip-witted pun-slinger Milton Jones, joining Rhys James, Maisie Adam and host Arthur Smith. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
“Film of the week”: Alan Ayckburn’s The Girl Next Door, from Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, until Sunday
THE SJT’s film of Alan Ayckbourn’s latest premiere, The Girl Next Door, is available on the Scarborough theatre’s website, sjt.uk.com.
Directed by Ayckbourn, his 85th play can be seen on stage in The Round until Saturday and now in a filmed recording in front of a live audience until midnight on Sunday.
One day in 2020 lockdown, veteran actor Rob spots a stranger hanging out the washing in the adjoining garden, but his neighbours have not been around for months. Who is the mysterious girl next door? And why is she wearing 1940s’ clothing?
Musical of the week ahead: Priscilla Queen Of The Desert, Leeds Grand Theatre, July 6 to 10
PRISCILLA Queen Of The Desert returns to Leeds for seven socially distanced performances in a new production produced by Mark Goucher and, for the first time, Jason Donovan, star of the original West End show and two UK tours.
Loaded up with glorious costumes, fabulous feathers and dance-floor classics, three friends hop aboard a battered old bus bound for Alice Springs to put on the show of a lifetime.
Miles Western plays Bernadette, Nick Hayes, Adam/Felicia and Edwin Ray, Tick/Mitzi, in this heart-warming story of self-discovery, sassiness and acceptance. Box office: 0113 243 0808 or at leedsgrandtheatre.com.
Gig of the week outside York: Clive, alias Phil Grainger, At The Mill, Stillington, near York, tomorrow, 7.30pm
CLIVE is the solo music project of Easingwold singer, songwriter, musician, sound engineer, magician, actor, Gobbledigook Theatre director and event promoter Phil Grainger.
As the voice and the soul behind Orpheus, Eurydice and The Gods The Gods The Gods, Clive finds the globe-trotting Grainger back home, turning his hand to a song-writing project marked by soaring vocal and soulful musicianship. Expect a magical evening wending through new work and old classics in two sets, one acoustic, the other electric. Box office: tickettailor.com/events/atthemill/512182.
Open-air theatre event of the weekend: A Resurrection For York, Residents Garden, Minster Library, Dean’s Park, York, Saturday and Sunday, 11am, 2pm, 4pm
THE wagons are in place for A Resurrection For York, presented by York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust, York Festival Trust and York Minster.
Philip Parr, artistic director of Parrabbola, directs a community cast in an hour-long outdoor performance, scripted by Parr and 2018 York Mystery Plays director Tom Straszewski from the York Mystery Plays cycle of the crucifixion and the events that followed. Tickets are on sale at ticketsource.co.uk/whats-on/york/residents-garden-deans-park/a-resurrection-for-york/.
Exhibition of the week and beyond: Momentum Summer Show, Westside Artists, Blossom Street Gallery, by Micklegate Bar, York, until September 26
YORK art group Westside Artists, a coterie of artists from the city’s Holgate and West areas, are exhibiting paintings, portraits, photomontage, photography, metalwork, textiles, ceramics and mixed-media art at Blossom Street Gallery.
Taking part are Adele Karmazyn; Carolyn Coles; Donna Maria Taylor; Ealish Wilson; Fran Brammer; Jane Dignum; Jill Tattersall; Kate Akrill and Lucy McElroy. So too are Lucie Wake; Marc Godfrey-Murphy; Mark Druery; Michelle Hughes; Rich Rhodes; Robin Grover-Jaques, Sharon McDonagh and Simon Palmour.
Theatre premiere of the week ahead: Park Bench Theatre in The Park Keeper, The Friends’ Garden, Rowntree Park, York, July 7 to 17 (except July 11)
AFTER last summer’s trilogy of solo shows, Matt Aston’s Park Bench Theatre return to Rowntree Park with Olivier Award-winning York writer Mike Kenny’s new monologue to mark the park’s centenary.
Performed by Sean McKenzie, The Park Keeper is set in York in the summer of 1945, when Rowntree Park’s first, and so far only, park keeper, ‘Parky’ Bell, is about to retire. That can mean only one thing, a speech, but what can he say? How can he close this chapter on his life? Will he be able to lock the gates to his kingdom one last time? Box office: 01904 623568, at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or via parkbenchtheatre.com.
Gig announcement of the week outside York: Andy Fairweather Low, Pocklington Arts Centre, February 11 2022
ANDY Fairweather Low, the veteran Welsh guitarist, songwriter, vocalist and producer, will return to Pocklington next February.
Founder and cornerstone of Sixties’ hitmakers Amen Corner and later part of Eric Clapton and Roger Waters’ bands, Cardiff-born Fairweather Low, 72, will perform with The Low Riders: drummer Paul Beavis, bassist Dave Bronze and saxophonist Nick Pentelow. Box office: pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.
Rearranged gig announcement of the week in York: Jane McDonald, York Barbican, July 22 2022
WAKEFIELD cabaret singer and television personality Jane McDonald’s Let The Light In show is on the move to next summer.
For so long booked in as the chance to “Get The Lights Back On” at York Barbican on July 4, the Government’s postponement of “Freedom Day” from June 21 to July 19 at the earliest has enforced the date change for a show first booked in for 2020. Tickets remain valid; box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
A RESURRECTION For York will undergo its own resurrection this summer after Covid-19 put the kibosh on the original theatre production.
Plans for the play had to be put on hold earlier this year under pandemic restrictions, but partners York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust, York Festival Trust and York Minster have settled on new performance dates of July 3 and 4.
Directed by Philip Parr, artistic director of Parrabbola, the show’s format will be retained: one hour long, staged outdoors, on two static wagons.
The location will be the Residents Gardens, at Minster Library, Dean’s Park, alongside York Minster, where the limited audience size for each day’s 11am, 2pm and 4pm performances will be governed by the prevailing social-distancing guidelines.
Linda Terry, chair of York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust, says: “With our partners, we have been working hard to bring back live theatre to the city after such a difficult time. The York Mystery Plays have survived past plagues; we wanted to play our part in a new beginning, creating an optimistic and safe event, bringing people together in a vividly imagined drama from York’s literary and cultural inheritance.”
York Festival Trust director Roger Lee is equally enthusiastic: “With arts and culture among the last areas of our lives allowed to return, York Festival Trust is delighted to be part of this project to bring York Mystery Plays back to the city this summer and to support the rebirth of live performing arts,” he says.
The Dean of York, the Right Reverend Dr Jonathan Frost, is “delighted that after the lockdown we have all experienced, events crucial to the life and story of York are beginning to happen again”.
“The theme for the York Mystery Plays this year is resurrection,” he says. “It would be hard to think of a more appropriate focus for a society, community and city coming back to life after a torrid journey. I do hope everyone will find time to enjoy the Mystery Plays.”
Since his appointment as director in March, Parr has been working on the new script with Tom Straszewski, director of the 2018 wagon production of the York Mystery Plays, and auditioning a community cast.
Previously, Parr directed York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust’s production of A Nativity For York at the Spurriergate Centre, York, in December 2019.
Tickets for A Resurrection For York are on sale at ticketsource.co.uk/whats-on/york/residents-garden-deans-park/a-resurrection-for-york/