York Theatre Royal and BBC Radio York team up for Good Friday and Easter Sunday instalments of York Radio Mystery Plays

Director Juliet Forster, top left, and the cast for The Resurrection at a rehearsal on Zoom

BBC Radio York will broadcast two more instalments of the York Radio Mystery Plays in collaboration with York Theatre Royal.

While the Theatre Royal has been closed in Lockdown 3, actors and creatives have been working behind the scenes to record The Crucifixion for Good Friday and The Resurrection for Easter Sunday.

The plays have been adapted by Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster and writer husband Kelvin Goodspeed from excerpts from the York Mystery Plays, dating back to the 1300s, for recording by a combination of community and professional actors. 

These latest recordings follow on from the audio versions of Adam And Eve, The Flood Part 1, The Flood Part 2 and Moses And Pharaoh, broadcast on BBC Radio York last June.

“I’m delighted to have returned to the York Radio Mystery Plays series this Easter,” says Juliet. “The York Mystery Plays are part of the DNA of this city. They belong to the people of York and have brought people together to create, perform, watch, laugh and cry since the 14th century.

“The longevity of these potent plays clearly demonstrates how vital the collective act of storytelling is and has always been to human beings, and how much we need to explore and reflect together on our experiences and understanding of the world.”

The sourcing of the scripts, recruitment of actors and provision of music has been conducted by the Theatre Royal. In keeping with the social-distancing rules, the production required the actors to rehearse remotely on Zoom, then record their lines on a smart phone from home, whereupon the recordings were sent to BBC Radio York for mixing and collating into finished crafted instalments.

Acting assistant editor Allan Watkiss says: “We’re excited to be working with York Theatre Royal once again to keep the centuries-old tradition of the Mystery Plays alive during the pandemic.”

York Radio Mystery Plays director Juliet Forster

The York Mystery Radio Plays project is part of the Theatre Royal’s Collective Acts, a programme of creative community engagement taking place while the building is closed under Coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

Joining director Juliet in the production team are Edwin Gray, composition, foley and sound design, and Madeleine Hudson, Theatre Royal Choir musical director, songs.

The cast for The Crucifixion is: Andrew Isherwood, as John; Daniel Poyser, 1st Soldier; Toby Gordon, 2nd Soldier; Adam Kane, 3rd Soldier; Ged Murray, 4th Soldier; Stephanie Wood, Mary, mother of Jesus; Joe Osborne, Pilate; Jared More, Jesus; Elizabeth Elsworth, Mary Cleophas; Maria Gray, 1st Thief on the cross, and Kelvin Goodspeed, 2nd Thief on the cross.

Poyser, Gordon, Kane, Murray, Wood, Osborne, More and Elsworth reprise their roles in The Resurrection, performing alongside Sarah Woodmansey as Angel, Dora Rubinstein as Mary Magdalene and Maggie Smales as Caiaphas.

“Like we did before, we’ve gone for a mix of professionals and community actors, but everyone is new for this production as we’ve moved from the Old Testament to the New Testament, and I wanted to reflect that by using new voices,” says Juliet.

BBC Radio York will air The Crucifixion on Good Friday, April 2, at 6.30am and 1.30pm; The Resurrection on Easter Sunday, April 4, 6.30am and 9.30am. They will be available too on BBC Sounds at bbc.co.uk/radioyork

Actor credits:

Elizabeth Elsworth performed in the York Mystery Plays 2012 and the Wagons Festivals in 2014 and 2018. She appeared in York Theatre Royal’s community productionsBlood + Chocolate, In Fog and Falling Snow and Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes, as well as several productions for York Shakespeare Project and York Settlement Community Players.

Toby Gordon as Lucifer in the 2016 York Minster Mystery Plays, when he memorably switched to playing Jesus during the last week of the run

Toby Gordon appeared in the York Mystery Plays 2012 as Workman, in the 2016 York Minster Mystery Plays as Lucifer and in Two Planks & A Passion as Edward Young. Other credits include Antigone (Barbican, London) and The Great Gatsby(Guild of Misrule).

Maria Gray trained at East 15 Drama School (BA Acting) and Flic Circus School in Turin, Italy. She works as an actor, voice-over artist and movement director. Credits include Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre); The Machine Stops (York Theatre Royal/Pilot Theatre); The Beggars Opera(York Theatre Royal) and The Girl Next Door (Teatro Regio). Shewas movement director for A Midsummer Night’sDream and Macbeth (Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre) and Elves And The Shoe Makers (York Theatre Royal).

Andrew Isherwood has been performing on York stages since the York Mystery Plays in 2012, taking on leading roles in classical and musical productions for Pick Me Up Theatre, the York Shakespeare Project and at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre. He regards playing Max Bialystock in The Producers as his career highlight so far.

Jared More trained at the Newcastle Theatre Royal, graduating from the Project A actor training programme in 2019. He is a creative associate of York company Riding Lights, where his credits include Roughshod Deliver, The Selfish Giant and The Kaleidoscope Tour, as well as writing and editing on various projects.

Ged Murray’s first role in the Mystery Plays was as Joseph in the 1992 production at York Theatre Royal. He has since been in the cast in 1996, 2000 (again as Joseph), 2012 and 2016, along with being involved in the Wagon Plays since their resurrection in 1994. He last appeared in the Plays in December 2019 as Shepherd One in the Mystery Plays Supporters Trust’s Nativity. His wider acting roles range from Shylock in York Shakespeare Project’s The Merchant Of Venice to the Dame in village pantomimes. 

Exchange of views: Paul Joe Osborne’s Sergeant-Major Reg Drummond and Rory Mulvihill’s Acting Captain Teri Dennis in Privates On Parade in March 2019 . Picture: Matthew Kitchen

Paul Joe Osborne featured in the 2012 York Mystery Plays 2012 but that time at the other end of the Bible, starring as Noah in the Potters Cast. He has played assorted characters at York Theatre Royal Studio in The Seagull, Twelfth Night, Breathing Corpses and Waiting For Godot and Sgt Drummond in Pick Me Up Theatre’s Privates On Parade at Theatre @41 Monkgate. He has also explored TV and film opportunities too in Peaky Blinders, Coronation Street, Ghost Stories and the York comedy horror Chestersberg.

Daniel Poyser trained at Arden School of Theatre.  He has played multiple roles for the National Theatre, as well as appearing in The Play That Goes Wrong (Duchess Theatre, London); The Crucible (West Yorkshire Playhouse); The Island and The Three Musketeers (Young Vic, London); Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Les Blancs (Royal Exchange, Manchester); An Enemy Of The People (Sheffield Crucible); Blue/Orange(nominated for MEN Best Actor Award), The Merchant of Venice and The BFG (Bolton Octagon), and Strangers On A Train, Arms And The Man and Blue/Orange (Theatre by the Lake, Cumbria). He has myriad television and radio credits too.

Dora Rubinstein trained at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. Credits include A Page A Day (Northern Stage), Cinderella (Cast, Doncaster), Digital Ghost Hunt (York Theatre Royal), Peter Pan and Aladdin (The Dukes, Lancaster), The Wizard Of Oz (Leicester Square Theatre), Romeo And Juliet and Macbeth (Young Shakespeare Company) and The Ballad Of Robin Hood (Southwark Playhouse). She performs and teaches circus skills, such as contortion and acrobatics, and is developing an interactive circus/theatre show for families in partnership with Dance City, Newcastle. 

Maggie Smales is a York theatre maker with both directing and acting credits. She has directed The Stepmother; an all-female Henry V; Blue Stockings and When The Rain Stops Falling. Among her acting roles: York Mystery Plays, A Winter’s Tale, Coriolanus, Follies, Legacy, Twilight Robbery and Tom’s Midnight Garden.

Stephanie Wood trained at the Birmingham School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art and worked professionally for several years, most notably appearing in the cult TV show Knightmare as Elita the Cavern Elf.She has been involved in many of York Theatre Royal’s community shows and was last seen as Arkadina in Chekhov’s The Seagull, whose run in the Theatre Royal Studio concluded shortly before the first lockdown.

Sarah Woodmansey is training at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, London, on the contemporary performance practices course. She has acted in York Theatre Royal productions of In Fog And Falling Snow, Dick Whittington (And His Meerkat), The Beggar’s Opera and Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes.

York Mystery Plays head off streets and into homes for Strasz’s film/theatre project

Tom Straszewski’s cardboard waggon from his York Mysteries @ Home films

YORK theatre director and academic Tom Straszewski is seeking participants for York Mysteries @ Home, the chance to make a York Mystery Play in your abode.

“As part of my PhD on the York Mysteries and community theatre, I invite you and your household to create your own performances of one of the Mystery Plays at home,” he says.

“This approach is inspired by the medieval origins of the Mysteries, where Guild members worked from home on their crafts.”

Strasz has put together five DIY plays himself already that can be viewed on YouTube at https://tinyurl.com/homemysteries.

“Finding myself in a similar position, and limited to what was already in the house, I’ve been creating plays from whatever items I had lying around: often props and materials left over from old performances.”

Offering guidance, Strasz says: “You might have your own hobby or craft that provides inspiration. The main thing is to draw on what you already have, so that your play is personal to you and your home.

“This will then build up to a screening of the plays in the autumn next year, perhaps at a York venue, perhaps online.”

Anyone interested in taking on one of the plays is asked to e-mail Strasz at: Thomas.Straszewski@york.ac.uk. “If you have a particular play in mind, then include that, and any initial thoughts and ideas,” he advises.

“I’ll be running this in batches of five plays every month or so. If there’s a play later in the schedule you’re particularly interested in creating, let me know now and I’ll be in touch when we reach it – no commitment required.”

For more details, visit the website:
https://www.yorkmysteriesathome.co.uk/create-your-own.html


FROM this evening, additionally Strasz will be hosting a weekly read-through of the Mystery Plays every Tuesday on Zoom from 7.30pm to 9pm.

“These evenings are an opportunity to read each play out loud and discuss them with fellow friends of the York Mystery Plays,” he says.

“The ideas and connections made will hopefully lead to a full production of the Mystery Plays in the future, with these read-throughs as one way to form the performance right from the start.”

Strasz’s read-throughs will work through the 48 mediaeval plays in order. “We’ll be starting with The Creation Of The Heavens and The Fall Of Lucifer and we should be reaching The Nativity in December,” he says.

“As an informal group, you can drop in and out each week, depending on how often you’d like to attend.”

The Zoom details can be acquired by e-mailing Strasz at: thomas.straszewski@york.ac.uk. Scripts will be available via the YorkMysteries@Home website, under the Resources page.

“At a time when people are struggling to keep a sense of community at a distance, I think there’s a real need for the Mysteries – and for York’s community theatre more generally,” says Strasz

Here Charles Hutchinson puts questions to Tom Straszewski on his DIY community project, York Mysteries @ Home.

Which plays have you done?

“So far, I’ve performed the first seven plays, and five are available online to date, from The Creation Of The Heavens to Cain And Abel. As winter closes in, I’ll hopefully reach The Nativity and make it to The Last Supper in time for Easter.”

What is the most unusual prop you have used?

“I don’t know about unusual, but I’ve enjoyed the matchsticks for Lucifer. Originally matches were made with sulphur and called ‘lucifers’ – light-bringers – which is the sort of bad pun I relish.

“I’ve got my eye on my son’s toy watering can for The Flood and lots of old props and costumes from my past plays will appear. It’s like seeing familiar actors in plays; I always enjoy spotting old props and costumes being reused.”

How have you filmed the Plays?  On your phone or with a camera?

“All on my phone – you don’t need anything fancy. And it’s theatre, not film, playing in the moment, not editing the best shots together.

“Having said that, the first one I did was disastrous! I dropped the phone halfway through, just as I ate my last prop – a strawberry from the garden – so I did edit that one a bit. I’ve switched to using a tripod to avoid a repeat.”

In the ruff: Tom Straszewski in rehearsal with York actor Jess Murray. Picture: JTU Photography

What skills might you like Mystery Play home-play creators to display in the Plays they do?

“It could be anything: I’ve had suggestions of baking for The Last Supper and wood-working for The Crucifixion, which is fitting. If anybody out there paints stained glass, I’d love to see their take on any of the Plays with angels.

“But it could be as simple as finger-painting, sock puppets or Lego. The main thing is to find out how to tell these amazing stories in your own home with what’s available to you. Be bold and imaginative. And be willing to be surprised at how your idea of your home changes.”

Do you have anywhere in mind for showing the Mystery Plays films in York?

“Further lockdown permitting, it would be wonderful to hold it in somewhere linked to the Plays, one of the guild halls, perhaps, or in Museum Gardens. I’ll be looking for some collaborators to help put this on, assuming we’re allowed out of the house again by then. If not, we’ll hold a socially distanced celebration of everybody’s work online instead.”

Are the Plays being done in a particular order or in thematic clusters?

“I’m dependent on who volunteers to take on each play, but I’m hoping to work through them roughly in linear order, starting with The Creation and finishing with The Last Judgement. But if anybody has a burning need to do one of the later plays right now, there’s no need to wait.”

Is there previous history of the York Mystery Plays being performed in homes?

“Yes. It was wonderful to hear York Theatre Royal take on the plays as radio drama, recorded remotely in each actor’s own home during lockdown [for broadcast on Jonathan Cowap’s Sunday morning show on BBC Radio York]. But I missed the visuals!

“I was talking to a group of previous actors in the Plays and they all said the sense of spectacle was essential to the Mystery Plays. So, this project hopefully brings that back, on a tiny scale.

A Zoom rehearsal, led by director Juliet Forster, second from right, top row, for The Flood, part of this summer’s York Radio Mystery Plays recorded by York Theatre Royal

 “And the medieval guilds who put on the plays often had their workshops in their homes, open to the public. So, making the plays at home draws on that sense of craftwork as a performance.”

Why are you so drawn to the Mystery Plays: what makes them resonate with you?

“Within the Plays themselves, it’s the marriage of the epic sweep with intimate moments: one minute creating the whole world, the next moment seeing Adam and Eve arguing over who should take the blame for messing up.

“On that domestic scale, the story of Mary takes her from a teenager in an impossible situation, to mourning her son, to acting as a matriarch for a whole host of disciples. I’d love to really focus on her story one day.

“And that gives a sense of how endless the possibilities are. In 2018 alone, for the Waggon Plays that summer, people based their Mystery Plays on children’s pop-up books, Russian art, street graffiti, Greek choruses, medieval tapestries, modern atrocities, climate change, to mention just a few. Shakespeare is probably the only other drama that sees that breadth of staging possibilities.

“The other thing that always stands out for me are the moments outside the Plays themselves – seeing somebody conquer their shyness, or find a new talent, or make new friends backstage. And they bring people together all across York.

“At a time when people are struggling to keep a sense of community at a distance, I think there’s a real need for the Mysteries – and for York’s community theatre more generally.”

York on Flood alert…for second instalment of Radio Mystery Plays on Sunday morning

Director Juliet Forster, second from right, top row, in a Zoom rehearsal for The Flood, part of this summer’s York Radio Mystery Plays

TODAY is Corpus Christi Day, the day when the York Mystery Plays were first performed on wagons on the city streets from dawn until dusk in mediaeval times.

The Covid-19 pandemic scuppered any chance of a wagon production this summer, however, so instead the 2020 Mystery Plays are taking to the airwaves.

Instalment two of the four-part series will be aired on the Sunday Breakfast Show with Jonathan Cowap on BBC Radio York, partners to York Theatre Royal in this debut audio collaboration.

The York Radio Mystery Plays form part of York Theatre Royal’s Collective Acts, a programme of “creative community engagement” set up in response to the St Leonard’s Place building being closed under the Covid-19 strictures.

“The York Mystery Plays are part of the DNA of this city,” says director Juliet Forster, whose production began last weekend with Adam And Eve. “In lockdown, these plays seem exactly the right choice to pick up, find a new way to create, communicate afresh and encourage one another.”

Juliet, incidentally, previously co-directed Anthony Minghella’s Two Planks And A Passion at the Theatre Royal in July 2011, a play set around a performance of the York Mystery Plays on Corpus Christi Day in midsummer 1392.

This time, she and writer husband Kelvin Goodspeed have adapted Mystery Play texts for the radio series, drawing on material dating back to the 1300s, first resurrected after a long, long hiatus for the Festival of Britain in 1951.

Working remotely from home, a cast of 19 community and professional actors has recorded the 15-minute instalments that continue with The Flood Part 1 on June 14, The Flood Part 2 on June 21 and Moses And Pharaoh on June 28.

“When we went into lockdown, Tom [Bird, the Theatre Royal’s executive director] kept saying we ought to try to do something with the Mystery Plays, and I suggested that we should do radio plays,” recalls Juliet.

“But I’d never done a radio broadcast, so I contacted Radio York and said ‘let’s do this together’.”

Under the partnership that ensued, the Theatre Royal has chosen the texts, sourced the scripts, recruited the actors and provided the music, while BBC Radio York sound engineer Martin Grant has mixed the recordings, splicing them together into finished crafted instalments. 

“Making these radio plays in lockdown has probably been the most challenging thing I’ve ever worked on,” says director Juliet Forster

Ed Beesley has provided composition, sound design and foley artist effects. Madeleine Hudson, musical director of the York Theatre Royal Choir, has given the choir and cast songs to perform.

In choosing the plays, Juliet says: “The ones that make for the most fun are the ones around Noah’s flood, but they are also about a family in isolation for 40 days, maybe falling out with each other, so there are parallels with what’s happening now.

“Then there’s the positive ending, which would be good, and that sense of starting again, so it was the perfect choice.”

The Flood, Parts 1 and 2 were picked initially for a spring pilot show, but then the BBC decided to build a series around the Corpus Christi Day tradition in June, and so two more plays were added: Adam And Eve and Moses And Pharaoh.

“I’d already started working on Adam And Eve and thought about doing a Nativity play, but in our conversations with Radio York, they then talked about wanting to keep the series going, with the possibility of four Nativity plays at Christmas and four for Easter based around the Crucifixion,” says Juliet.

“So, I thought, ‘I’ll stick with Old Testament stories’, and I’d done the Moses and Pharaoh story for The Missing Mysteries with the York Theatre Royal Youth Theatre in 2012.

“It’s a play about a desire for freedom to get out, which again relates to now: that need to breathe, to get to the other side, but there’s also that moment where they dare not go out, where they stay behind closed doors, so that really is like now. That feeling of living in fear.”

As for Adam And Eve, again the Genesis story is a resonant one. “They were living in this paradise but then lost it, facing hardship and their own mortality, which we’re all facing now,” says Juliet.

“That sense of not knowing paradise is what you have until it’s gone; also that role of being guardians but always wanting that little bit more, when instead we need to be more environmentally friendly.”

In choosing the cast, Juliet says: “I knew I wanted to involve a mixture of professional and non-professional actors from York, and straightaway I thought of casting Paul Stonehouse as God. He’d been in Two Planks And A Passion and had gone on to gain a professional contract for radio plays for the BBC.

A scene from Two Planks And A Passion, co-directed by Juliet Forster at York Theatre Royal in July 2011

“I knew Mark Holgate from directing him in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the first year of Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in York. He has a lovely Yorkshire voice and I knew he’d turned part of his house into a mini-sound studio to do voiceover work.

“I cast him as Noah, and the next role that came into my head was Rosy Rowley for Mrs Noah. She was so amusing in that role in the 2012 Mystery Plays and she brings such an instinctive intelligence to the text.

“I ended up with a cast where I’d worked with almost all of them before, thinking how they all might fit in.”

One exception was Taj Atwal, a recommendation by Tom Bird. “She grew up in York, played Rita in Rita, Sue And Bob Too at the Theatre Royal in November 2017 and was back self-isolating in the city, so she’s playing Eve in Adam And Eve and 3rd Daughter in The Flood instalments,” says Juliet.

In keeping with Covid-19 social-distancing rules, the production required the actors to record their lines on a smart phone from home, having done collective rehearsals for each play over the Zoom conference call app.

“It might depend on the day of the week you ask me, but I would say that making these radio plays in lockdown has probably been the most challenging thing I’ve ever worked on,” says Juliet.

“Normally, when I’m in a rehearsal room, I like to guide, but not be too instructive, not telling them exactly what to do; it’s more flexible that way, whereas with this project, there was no chance to do that as we were all rehearsing in isolation, gathering on Zoom, rather than in a room.

“When it came to the recordings, done alone at home, on a number of occasions, I would send a note by email or phone them to say ‘could you re-do that line with more of this or more sense of that?’.

“On top of that, I had to get my head around each play, thinking about how they needed to be adapted for radio recordings and what did I want I want to get out of the project. All the actors have been so generous, knowing how difficult it would be to do a production in these circumstances, so it’s been a real challenge but also really exciting.”

So much so, Juliet would welcome the opportunity to do further Mystery Plays radio recordings. “But first we’ll see what the response is to the first series…” she says.

That series rolls on this weekend. If you missed Adam And Eve, would you believe it, in addition to the early-morning broadcasts on Jonathan Cowap’s Sunday show, the radio plays can be heard on BBC Sounds at bbc.co.uk/sounds.

How Rory and Rosy recorded their remote roles for the York Radio Mystery Plays

Rory Mulvihill experiments with recording the role of Satan in the shower of his Naburn home, by torchlight, with the script stuck to the wall

THE first instalment of the York Radio Mystery Plays will be aired on BBC Radio York’s Sunday Breakfast Show this weekend.

Aptly starting at the beginning with Adam And Eve, this audio collaboration between York Theatre Royal and the BBC station comprises four 15-minute plays, continuing with The Flood Part 1 on June 14, The Flood Part 2 on June 21 and Moses And Pharaoh on June 28.

Under the direction of Theatre Royal associate director Juliet Forster, who has adapted the mediaeval texts with writer husband Kelvin Goodspeed, a cast of 19 community and professional actors has recorded the episodes, each working remotely.

In keeping with Covid-19 social-distancing rules, the production required the cast members to record their lines on a smart phone from home, having done collective rehearsals for each play over the Zoom conference call app.

Among the cast are Rory Mulvihill and Rosy Rowley, Rory reprising his role as Satan from the York Millennium Mystery Plays in York Minster in 2000, this time in Adam And Eve; Rosy returning to Mrs Noah in The Flood, a no-nonsense role she first played in the 2012 York Mystery Plays in the Museum Gardens. 

“It’s a first for me, doing a radio play,” says Rory, a leading light of the York Light Opera Company for 35 years and a Mystery Plays stalwart too, not least playing Jesus Christ in 1996.

Hades in red: Rory Mulvihill as Satan in the York Millennium Mystery Plays in York Minster in 2000. Copyright: York Mystery Plays/Kippa Matthews

“But I did do a radio recording after the Blood + Chocolate community play in 2013: World War One At Home, done for the BBC, with each local radio station doing its own series.

“But my radio claim to fame – and this should be the title of my autobiography! – is ‘I Was Andy Kershaw’s Weatherman’!

“He once had the graveyard slot of Radio Aire on a Sunday night, with just him and me in the studio, so I had to copy down the weather forecast and read it out on the hour.”

Rehearsing on Zoom has been a novel experience. “I find it a bit strange, video conferencing. I first had a couple of sessions with York Light, and it’s enjoyable but I felt like I was watching Celebrity Squares or Blankety Blank, except that I was on it!”

Juliet tried to “normalise the rehearsals as much as possible”, despite the reliance on technology. “I thought it could be a sterile experience if we were just reading it, but once I was confident with the lines, I decided, ‘let’s look up, get a rapport going’, but the first time I tried doing that with Taj Atwal, I looked up…at Taj’s epiglottis on the screen! She was in the middle of the biggest yawn!” recalls Rory.

“That’s the effect I have on people! If there’s a moral to this story, it is to take Zoom on the chin and accept the way it works.”

Juliet Forster:Associate director of York Theatre Royal and director of the York Radio Mystery Plays

Rory was late to join his first Zoom rehearsal. “They could all hear me but I couldn’t hear them, and by the time I started, they’d decided it should be 14th century Yorkshire vernacular, rather than RP [Received Pronunciation], but I didn’t know that.

“I’m a Leeds lad born and bred, but not I’m not like a Sean Bean Yorkshireman! Anyway, when I played Jesus in 1996 I did very much a Yorkshire accent, whereas for Satan in 2000, I was ‘well spoken’ to contrast with Ray Stevenson’s Jesus.

“In the end, Juliet decided she wanted to try different versions, one ‘better spoken’, one with  a Yorkshire accent, and she then settled on the Yorkshire Satan.”

There was another adjustment needed. “The Mystery Plays are declamatory because they were meant to be shouted off the top of a wagon in the streets, so everyone could hear them, especially this ‘pantomime villain’ Satan, who’s not understated in any way,” says Rory.

“That was one of the things that needed to change for the radio, so after my first effort, Juliet said, ‘maybe tone it down a little’!”

Rory experimented with doing his first recordings in his shower at his Naburn home, thinking it would be an ideal insulated sound booth. “Living in the country, the bird song is beautiful and loud, and I suppose it’s a garden of Eden, and I thought the shower would be quiet,” he says.

Zoom for manoeuvre: A remote rehearsal for The Flood in the York Radio Mystery Plays, with Rosy Rowley (Mrs Noah), second from left , middle row, and director Juliet Forster, top row, second from right

“I stuck my script on the wall and had to use torchlight because I couldn’t have the extractor fan on, but when Juliet heard the recordings, she said it was a tinny noise, bouncing off the wall, so she rejected them!

“I had to do them sitting at my desk in the end, with Julia saying it didn’t matter if there was a bit of birdsong in the background!”

Rory can foresee the Theatre Royal and BBC Radio York rolling out further episodes. “I can really see the potential in this: a situation almost like the York Shakespeare Project, where you do all the canon,” he says.

“But Juliet has to be consistent. We can’t have anyone else playing Satan. I’d be most upset!!”

As with Rory, Rosy faced challenges in choosing the right time and location for the recordings for her role in The Flood Part 1 and 2.

“Living in a busy street and having teenagers in my house, I ended up rehearsing in the garden shed and having to record at two in the morning in my bedroom in the attic as it’s quiet up there,” she says.

Rosy Rowley: Saying “Yes” to playing Mrs Noah for a second time

Collective rehearsals by Zoom were “pretty normal, apart from not being in the same room, as we worked on breaking down the script, but it was just after lockdown started and lots of us had just been furloughed, so that felt a little strange,” says Rosy.

Recording solo and remotely was “lonely, having to record on your own with no voice to respond to”. “So, you had to imagine how someone would have said a line, or try to remember how they had said it in rehearsal, and Juliet would ask you to record lines in different ways for her to choose from, so it was a fragmented process.” says Rosy.

Recording a song remotely with Madeleine Hudson, musical director of the York Theatre Royal Choir, presented another unusual experience. “Maddy tried to get us to sing together for the recording but we had to deal with time legs because of working on separate equipment!” Rosy reveals.”Not easy when you needed to have two phones, one for listening to the backing track, and another for recording your vocals.”

She is delighted to be taking part in the radio recordings. “I’m passionate about the York Mystery Plays, having done the 2012 production and been involved in the Waggon Plays,” she says. “So, I was going to miss them not being done on the streets this summer, but it’s great to have this chance to air them on the radio.”

Playing Mrs Noah is not the only role that Rosy has taken on in lockdown while on furlough. “I’ve become a Covid-19 testing volunteer at the Poppleton testing site,” she says. “I saw an advert and thought that would be a good thing to do, so me and my daughter Imogen [a third-year BSc Fashion Buying and Merchandising student at the University of Manchester] signed up to do part-time volunteering, two days on, two days off.

“We had half a day’s training, partly to learn about PPE [Personal Protective Equipment], to be sure we were fully prepared, as well as learning how to do swabs – and it is rather invasive putting swabs up someone’s nose.”

Rosy had expected to be working eight-hour shifts, but instead it had been “quite quiet”. May it please become quieter still.

Note that in addition to the June broadcasts on Jonathan Cowap’s Sunday show on BBC Radio York, the York Radio Mystery Plays can be heard on BBC Sounds at bbc.co.uk/sounds.

Mystery solved! In the lockdown year 2020, when the streets have no plays, York Mystery Plays take to the radio in June

Zoom in the room: A rehearsal for The Flood for the York Radio Mystery Plays by the remote wonders of 2020 lockdown technology, with director Juliet Forster, top row, second from right, and Rosy Rowley (Mrs Noah), middle row, second from left

YORK Theatre Royal and BBC Radio York are collaborating to bring the York Mystery Plays to life on the airwaves next month.

Four instalments will be presented as audio versions on the Sunday Breakfast Show with Jonathan Cowap on successive weekends from June 7, the Sunday before Corpus Christi Day on June 11: the day since mediaeval times when the plays were performed on wagons on the city streets from dawn until dusk.

Working remotely from home, a cast of 19 community and professional actors has recorded the 15-minute instalments, Adam And Eve, The Flood Part 1, The Flood Part 2 and Moses And Pharaoh, under the direction of Theatre Royal associate director Juliet Forster.

“The York Mystery Plays are part of the DNA of this city,” she says. “The longevity of these potent plays clearly demonstrates how vital the collective act of storytelling is, and how much we need to explore and reflect together on our experiences and understanding of the world.

“We’re determined to keep doing this in spite of the lockdown. So, these plays seem exactly the right choice to pick up, find a new way to create, communicate afresh and encourage one another.”

Juliet, incidentally, previously co-directed Anthony Minghella’s Two Planks And A Passion at the Theatre Royal in July 2011, a play set around a performance of the York Mystery Plays on Corpus Christi Day in midsummer 1392.

This time, she and husband Kelvin Goodspeed have adapted Mystery Play texts for the radio series, drawing on material dating back to the 1300s first resurrected after a long, long hiatus for the Festival of Britain in 1951.

Juliet Forster: York Theatre Royal artistic director and director of the 2020 York Radio Mystery Plays

The York Radio Mystery Plays now form part of York Theatre Royal’s Collective Acts, a programme of “creative community engagement” set up in response to the St Leonard’s Place building being closed under the Covid-19 strictures.

“When we went into lockdown, Tom [Bird, the Theatre Royal’s executive director] kept saying we ought to try to do something with the Mystery Plays, and I suggested that we should do radio plays,” recalls  Juliet.

“But I’d never done a radio broadcast, so I contacted Radio York and said ‘let’s do this together’.”

Under the partnership that ensued, the Theatre Royal has chosen the texts, sourced the scripts, recruited the actors and provided the music, while BBC Radio York sound engineer Martin Grant has mixed the recordings, splicing them together into finished crafted instalments. 

Ed Beesley has provided composition, sound design and foley artist effects. Madeleine Hudson, musical director of the York Theatre Royal Choir, has given the choir and cast songs to perform.

In choosing the plays, Juliet says: “The ones that make for the most fun are the ones around Noah’s flood, but they are also about a family in isolation for 40 days, maybe falling out with each other, so there are parallels with what’s happening now.

“Then there’s the positive ending, which would be good, and that sense of starting again, so it was the perfect choice.”

Voice of an Angel: Christie Barnes recording her role remotely from home for Adam And Eve, the opening instalment of the York Radio Mystery Plays

The Flood, Parts 1 and 2 were picked initially for a spring pilot show, but then the BBC decided to build a series around the Corpus Christi Day tradition in June, and so two more plays were added: Adam And Eve and Moses And Pharaoh.

“I’d already started working on Adam And Eve and thought about doing a Nativity play, but in our conversations with Radio York, they then talked about wanting to keep the series going, with the possibility of four Nativity plays at Christmas and four for Easter based around the Crucifixion,” says Juliet.

“So I thought, ‘I’ll stick with Old Testament stories’, and I’d done the Moses and Pharaoh story for The Missing Mysteries with the York Theatre Royal Youth Theatre in 2012.

“It’s a play about a desire for freedom to get out, which again relates to now: that need to breathe, to get to the other side, but there’s also that moment where they dare not go out, where they stay behind closed doors, so that really is like now. That feeling of living in fear.”

As for Adam And Eve, again the Genesis story is a resonant one. “They were living in this paradise but then lost it, facing hardship and their own mortality, which we’re all facing now,” says Juliet.

“That sense of not knowing paradise is what you have until it’s gone; also that role of being guardians but always wanting that little bit more, when instead we need to be more environmentally friendly.”

In keeping with Covid-19 social-distancing rules, the production required the actors to record their lines on a smart phone from home, having done collective rehearsals for each play over the Zoom conference call app.

Rory Mulvihill experiments with recording the role of Satan in the shower of his Naburn home, by torchlight, with the script stuck to the wall

Among the cast are Rory Mulvihill and Rosy Rowley, Rory reprising his role as Satan from the York Millennium Mystery Plays in York Minster in 2000, this time in Adam And Eve; Rosy returning to Mrs Noah in The Flood, a role she first played in the 2012 York Mystery Plays in the Museum Gardens. 

Rory experimented with recording in his shower as his sound booth in his Naburn home. “I Blu-Tacked my script on the wall and had to use torchlight because I couldn’t have the extractor fan on, but when Juliet heard the recordings, she said it was a tinny noise, so she rejected them!

“I had to do them at my desk in the end, with Julia saying it didn’t matter if there was birdsong!”

“Choosing the right time and location for the recordings was a challenge,” says Rosy. “Living in a busy street and having teenagers in my house, I ended up rehearsing in the garden shed and having to record at two in the morning in my bedroom in the attic.

“It was lonely having to record on your own with no voice to respond to, so you had to imagine how someone would have said a line.”

Hear the results from June 7. Note that in addition to the broadcasts on Jonathan Cowap’s Sunday show, the radio plays can be heard on BBC Sounds at bbc.co.uk/sounds.

Copyright of The Press, York

York Theatre Royal and BBC Radio York team up for York Radio Mystery Plays

A rehearsal on Zoom for the York Radio Mystery Plays

YORK Theatre Royal and BBC Radio York are collaborating in lockdown to bring the York Mystery Plays to life on the airwaves next month.

Four instalments will be presented as audio versions on the Sunday Breakfast Show with Jonathan Cowap on successive weekends from June 7, the Sunday before Corpus Christi Day on June 11: the day since mediaeval times when the plays were performed on wagons on the city streets from dawn until dusk.

Working remotely from home, a cast of 19 community and professional actors has recorded the instalments, Adam And Eve, The Flood Part 1, The Flood Part 2 and Moses And Pharaoh, under the direction of Theatre Royal associate director Juliet Forster.

Juliet, incidentally, previously co-directed Anthony Minghella’s Two Planks And A Passion at the Theatre Royal in July 2011, a play set around a performance of the York Mystery Plays on Corpus Christi Day in midsummer 1392.

She and husband Kelvin Goodspeed have adapted Mystery Play texts for the radio series, drawing on material dating back to the 1300s first resurrected after a long, long hiatus for the Festival of Britain in 1951.

Ed Beesley, who would have been working on Juliet’s postponed production of Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, has provided composition, sound design and foley artist effects.

Juliet Forster: York Theatre Royal associate director and director of the York Radio Mystery Plays

Madeleine Hudson, musical director of the York Theatre Royal Choir, has given the choir and cast songs to perform.

“The York Mystery Plays are part of the DNA of this city,” says Juliet. “They belong to the people of York and have brought people together to create, perform, watch, laugh and cry since the 14th century.

“The longevity of these potent plays clearly demonstrates how vital the collective act of storytelling is and has always been to human beings, and how much we need to explore and reflect together on our experiences and understanding of the world.

“We’re determined to keep doing this in spite of the Coronavirus lockdown. So, these plays seem exactly the right choice to pick up, find a new way to create, communicate afresh and encourage one another with.”

Under the partnership between the Theatre Royal and BBC Radio York, the sourcing of the scripts, recruitment of actors and provision of music has been done by the theatre.

In keeping with the social-distancing rules, the production required the actors to record their lines on a smart phone from home, having done collective rehearsals for each play over the Zoom conference call app.

Juliet then selected the recordings to be sent to BBC Radio York sound engineer Martin Grant for mixing and splicing together into finished crafted instalments. 

BBC Radio York’s acting editor, Anna Evans, says: “It’s a privilege to work with York Theatre Royal and members of the city’s community to retain the tradition of the York Mystery Plays. During such uncertain times, it’s important that we can help maintain this cultural experience in a different way and I am so proud of what the teams have achieved in such difficult times.” 

The York Radio Mystery Plays form part of York Theatre Royal’s Collective Acts, a programme of “creative community engagement” taking place while the St Leonard’s Place building is closed under the Covid-19 strictures.

Special thanks are extended to the York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust and the Guild of Media Arts for supporting this project. 

In addition to the broadcasts on Jonathan Cowap’s Sunday show, the York Radio Mystery Plays can be heard on BBC Sounds at bbc.co.uk/sounds.

Christie Barnes recording her part as Angel in Adam And Eve

The cast for Adam And Eve is:

God: Paul Stonehouse

Eve: Taj Atwal

Adam: Kane Hutchinson

Satan: Rory Mulvihill

Angel: Christie Barnes

The Flood Parts 1 & 2:

God: Paul Stonehouse

Noah: Mark Holgate

Noah’s wife: Rosy Rowley

1st Son: Joe Feeney

2nd Son: Stan Gaskell

3rd Son: Matthew Dangerfield

1st Daughter: Charlotte Wood

2nd Daughter: Fiona Baistow

3rd Daughter: Taj Atwal

Moses And Pharaoh:

Pharaoh: Paul Mason

1st Counsellor: Maurice Crichton

2nd Counsellor: Claire Norman

Moses: Andrew Squires

God: Paul Stonehouse

1st Youth: Christie Barnes

2nd Youth: Oliver Joseph Brooke

1st Egyptian: Matt Simpson

2nd Egyptian: Rachel Price

Rory Mulvihill experiments with recording his role as Satan in his shower cubicle by torchlight with his script stuck to the wall

Actors

Paul Stonehouse (God): Credits include Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre, Blenheim Palace.

 Rory Mulvihill (Satan): Credits include many leading roles for York Light Opera Company in more than 35 years as a member; a long association as a performer in the York Cycle of Mystery Plays; York Theatre Royal community productions including Two Planks And A Passion, In Fog And Falling Snow and Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes.

Christie Barnes (Angel): A core member of Out Of Character Theatre Company.  Recently performed in Less Than Human and A View From The Bridge at York Theatre Royal, directed by Juliet Forster.

Andrew Squires (Moses). Actor and musician based in York, recently at York Theatre Royal in A View From The Bridge. Other theatre credits include: Uneasy Dreamers at Greenwich Theatre, Mr Brown’s Directions at Burton Constable, Time Out Of Mind at Greenwich Theatre, Democracy Of Oaks at The Fan Museum, London.

Mark Holgate (Noah). Credits include Twelfth Night, Hamlet, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s DreamShakespeare’s Rose Theatre, York

Rosy Rowley (Noah’s wife). Reprising the role of Noah’s Wife from the 2012 production of the York Mystery Plays. Other credits include Blood + Chocolate, In Fog And Falling Snow, Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes,York Theatre Royal.

Joe Feeney (1st Son). Credits include Heaven’s Gate, Cosmic Collective Theatre.

Charlotte Wood (1st Daughter). Credits include For the Fallen, Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes, In Fog And Falling Snow, York Theatre Royal; Kiss Me Kate, Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company.

Maurice Crichton (1st Councillor). Came to York as a student, qualifying as a solicitor in the city. He has been performing in amateur productions here for ten years, mostly with York Shakespeare Project and York Settlement Community Players.

He has strong links with the York Mystery Plays and played Pilate in The York Mystery Plays, 2012, Herod in York Minster Mystery Plays, 2016, and Soldier 1 in The Crucifixion on the Butchers’ wagon in 2018. He is secretary of the York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust.