Guilds of York to roll out York Mystery Plays wagons on city streets on June 19 and 26

2022 York Mystery Plays artistic director Tom Straszewski

HERE come the wagons, rolling through York’s streets on June 19 and 26 for the 2022 York Mystery Plays.

Once more, the driving force behind the community production will be the Guilds of York, maintaining the four-yearly wagon-play cycle they set in motion in 1998 and last implemented in 2018.

Under the artistic direction of Tom Straszewski, the Mystery Plays will be presented on decorated pageant wagons, in keeping with the medieval custom. Pushed by York residents, these will move through the streets to the accompaniment of musicians.

Straszewski’s production will involve nearly 600 people in all, who will create hours of drama, performed for free. Eight wagons will process through the city centre to stage their chosen plays at four locations, including St Sampson’s Square, St Helen’s Square and King’s Manor.

Roger Lee, chairman of York Festival Trust, says: “With arts and culture being amongst the last areas of our lives allowed to return post-Covid, we are delighted to bring York Mystery Plays back to the city this summer and support the rebirth of live performing arts.

James Swanton as Lucifer with cast members of The Last Judgement when plays from the 2018 York Mystery Plays were staged in the Shambles Market. Picture: Lewis Outing

“Our past productions have met with great popular, academic and critical acclaim, and we hope to build on this success with our 2022 production. In their medieval heyday, the Mystery Plays and the Guilds were inextricably linked, and it is this heritage we are reclaiming with these regular four-yearly productions.

Artistic director Tom Straszewski will work with various partners across York to make the Mystery Plays, their story, themes and message accessible to as many people as possible. “After two years of uncertainty for the arts, this is an opportunity for York’s communities to come together to celebrate our city’s heritage through drama, spectacle and pageantry,” he says.

“This will be a huge boost for people’s well-being and a festival to attract York residents and visitors alike to the city on these two Sundays.”

In the era of pandemic lockdowns and climate change, the theme for 2022’s selection of eight plays will be sustainability and transformation. “The plays will cover the creation of the world, floods, last meals together and resurrections. We are still seeking directors, performance groups and actors to take on these plays, including the iconic Crucifixion with the Butchers’ Gild,” says Tom, who was the artistic director and pageant master for the 2018 Mystery Plays too.

“There are still opportunities to be involved and anyone interested should email director@yorkmysteryplays.co.uk.”

REVIEW: A Resurrection For York, York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust, 3/7/2021

Emily Hansen’s Pilgrim as Mary Magdalene in A Resurrection For York. Picture: John Saunders

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.

Wagons wheeled in for A Resurrection For York setting of Mystery Plays at Dean’s Park

Preparations are gaining momentum for A Resurrection For York at Dean’s Park on July 3 and 4. Picture: John Saunders

A WEEK to go for A Resurrection For York and everything is dropping into place, the cross and all, at the Residents Garden, Minster Library, Dean’s Park, York.

Initial plans for the open-air play had to be put on hold under pandemic restrictions, but partners York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust, York Festival Trust and York Minster then 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, performed outdoors, on two static wagons, and the staging will be compliant with Covid safety requirements for audience social distancing for each day’s 11am, 2pm and 4pm performances.

Since his appointment in March, Parr has worked on the new script with Tom Straszewski, director of the York Mystery Plays’ wagon production in 2018, and auditioned a community cast, subsequently conducting rehearsals on Zoom.

Previously, Parr directed York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust’s production of A Nativity For York at the Spurriergate Centre, York, in December 2019.

Tickets are selling well – some performances have sold out already – and a civic party will attend the opening Saturday performance, followed by the Dean of York, the Right Reverend Dr Jonathan Frost, at a Sunday show.

The arrival of the wagons, loaned by the Guilds of Butchers and Merchant Taylors, was an uplifting moment, as the team of Dave Clapham, Mark Morton and Adam Robinson manoeuvred the trailer and wagons through the Dean’s Park gates, despite the tight squeeze.

Dave Clapham, Mark Morton and Adam Robinson delivering the wagons, or waggons as the York Mystery Plays historians are wont to call them. Picture: John Saunders

On those wagons, the cast will be performing a script by Straszewski and Parr, created from the York Mystery Plays cycle of the crucifixion and the events that followed.

Michael Maybridge, who will play Pilgrim 2, says: “What this script brings to mind is the experience of the very earliest Christians. We might think of our play in terms of the medieval citizens of York, reminding themselves of the narrative of their faith by telling each other stories.

“Many of those Christians found themselves travelling, just like the pilgrims in our play. They carried on telling their stories, and it seems uncontroversial to say that, in doing so, they changed the world.”

Jodie Fletcher, taking the role of Mary Cleophas, says: “The Mystery Plays are a unique part of history, and for me the magic comes from the beautiful and poetic language. It has been wonderful to be creating theatre once more and I hope audiences will find the experience revitalising.”

On July 3, the 2pm performance will be livestreamed on YouTube at youtube.com/watch?v=UXChGFomf5M and on Facebook at facebook.com/events/584796139152052/.


In addition, the Saturday performances will be filmed as a “record to view later”. “Watch this space. We’ll let you know when it’s available. What’s more, it’s free,” says the latest York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust newsletter.

“Attending a Saturday performance? There may be incidental filming of audience members, so if you do not wish to feature, please let one of the front-of-house stewards know. You can tell them by their face mask and name badge,” it adds.

Wagon wheelers: Dave Clapham, Mark Morton and Adam Robinson

Please note, as seating will not be provided for audiences, make sure to bring a rug or folding chair. Gates will be open to the garden from 10.30am.

Tickets for A Resurrection For York are on sale at ticketsource.co.uk/whats-on/york/residents-garden-deans-park/a-resurrection-for-york/

Who will be in the cast for A Resurrection For York?

Pilgrim 1, Wilma Edwards; Pilgrim 2, Michael Maybridge; Pilgrim 3, Victoria Rooke; Pilgrim 4, Mary Callan; Pilgrim 5, Nick Jones (Narrator); Pilgrim 6, Sally Maybridge (Narrator, Peter); Pilgrim 7, Chris Pomfrett (John); no Pilgrim 8.

Pilgrim 9, Julie Speedie; Pilgrim 10, Judith Ireland (Mary, Mother of Christ); Pilgrim 11, Jodie Fletcher (Mary Cleophas); Pilgrim 12, Tony Froud (Joseph of Arimathea); Pilgrim 13, Sonia di Lorenzo (Nicodemus); Pilgrim 14, Emily Hansen (Mary Magdalene).

Pilgrim 15, Raqhael Harte (Thomas); Pilgrim 16, Samuel Valentine (Centurion); Pilgrim 17, Joy Warner (Soldier 1); Pilgrim 18, Harold Mozley (Soldier 2); Pilgrim 19 Janice Barnes Newton (Soldier 3), and Pilgrim 20, Colin Lea (Soldier 4). Plus David Denbigh.  

Production team credits:

Director, Philip Parr; associate director, Terry Ram; producer, Simon Tompsett. 

York Mystery Plays to be staged in Dean’s Park in A Resurrection For York in July

Raqhael Harte’s Mary with the infant Jesus in York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust’s production of A Nativity For York in December 2019 at the Spurriergate Centre, York. Picture: John Saunders

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/

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.

New partnership to mount Easter open-air production of The York Passion in April

New partnership: York Festival Trust, York Minster and York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust to present The York Passion at Easter

YORK’S new theatre partnership is seeking a director for The York Passion, an outdoor staging planned for Easter Saturday and Monday.

For the first time, York Festival Trust, York Minster and York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust are working together to present an Easter production, performed on two or possibly three static pageant waggons on the hard standing in front of the Minster School, opposite York Minster.

Three performances per day will be staged on April 2 and 4; tickets will be sold for a nominal charge to ensure appropriate Covid-secure distancing arrangements are applied.

The director will be required to create a single play – no more than 70 minutes straight through – from the pageants in the original York Mystery Plays.

The director’s vision must embrace elements from the Crucifixion, the Death of Christ and the Resurrection, possibly starting with the Road to Calvary and ending with the Appearance of Christ to Mary Magdalene.

Tom Straszewski, artistic director of the 2018 York Mystery Plays’ waggon production and 2022 Lincoln Mystery Plays, has produced a working script that can be adapted to meet the director’s requirements, including cutting and modernising the original text.

Cast and crew will be drawn from open auditions from the York community: a tradition of the York Mystery Plays since mediaeval times. Auditions and rehearsals will be conducted virtually, in accordance with Government Coronavirus measures.

Tom Straszewski: Working script that can be adapted to meet the director’s requirements

Linda Terry, chair of York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust, says: “Despite the current dark times, we felt that it was right to look forward and create an opportunity for people to participate in, and enjoy, a theatrical production that fulfilled our aim of keeping York’s Medieval Mystery Play heritage alive in a format that could be enjoyed safely.

“With the country now in its third lockdown, it is unclear what public health measures will be in place during the rehearsal phase and indeed it is quite possible that we may have to cancel or postpone the production, but any such decision will be taken jointly by the partnership and the director.”

For the Easter production, The Passion Trust – a charity focused on performances of Passion plays, including community events, around Britain – has provided funding specifically for live screening a performance to be uploaded subsequently to YouTube.

Roger Lee, York Festival Trust’s chair, highlights the new partnership’s extensive experience: “All three partners have mounted productions of the York Mystery Plays over the past five to 30 years,” he says.

“With the exception of York Minster, the organisations are not exclusively Christian, but the Festival Trust has directed community groups in producing sections of the cycle on waggons every four years since 2002, but this will be the first time the Crucifixion and Resurrection pageants are staged together as a single play.”

Applicants for the director’s role should provide a CV and a proposal for their vision for the open-air production on one side of A4 by midnight on January 30 2021.

A special director information pack is available. Shortlisted candidates will be invited for discussion by Zoom. Applications and enquiries should be emailed to: linda.terry@ympst.co.uk

Happy 85th birthday to the Joseph Rowntree Theatre today…

The logo for the Joseph Rowntree Theatre’s 85th anniversary in York

TODAY is the 85th anniversary of the Joseph Rowntree Theatre in York, aptly on #LoveTheatreDay.

The theatre was opened on Monday, November 18 1935 by Mr Seebohm Rowntree, then chairman of  Rowntree & Co Limited, with the aim of “providing a hall which may be a fitting centre for those recreational and educational activities that make for a full and happy life”.

Under Lockdown 2 restrictions, the Haxby Road community theatre cannot hold an actual birthday party, but its social media channels will be full of stories, anecdotes and photographs.

The cutting from the Yorkshire Herald, reporting on the opening of the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, or Joseph Rowntree Hall as it was first called. Founder Mr Seebohm Rowntree is second from the left in the line-up

Supporters and volunteers have come together to share their memories and their hopes for the future of the Art Deco venue.

Those wanting to join in the conversations should email any memories to publicity@jrtheatre.co.uk or contribute via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

In addition to the birthday celebrations, the JoRo is highlighting the support and encouragement of its three patrons: David Bradley, Ian Kelsey and Frances Simon.

“The Joseph Rowntree Theatre has been a vital part of the city for so many years,” says patron David Bradley

Bradley, known to many older York residents from his time with the Rowntree Youth Theatre and from playing Jesus in the 1976 York Mystery Plays, has become a familiar face nationwide from his vast number of stage, film and television appearances over many decades. Latterly, those credits take in the Harry Potter franchise, Game Of Thrones and Broadchurch.

Although David, 78, has been a patron of the JoRo for “some time”, the 85th anniversary is the first time that the theatre has announced his patronage formally and celebrated his backing.

In support of the theatre’s Raise The Roof fundraising campaign, David said: “The Joseph Rowntree Theatre has been a vital part of the city for so many years. I know from personal experience that it has provided opportunities for so many young people, and I will always be grateful for that. I fully support the theatre’s appeal and wish it all the best.”

Ian Kelsey: New patron of the Joseph Rowntree Theatre

The second, newly appointed patron is York-born actor Ian Kelsey, who honed his skills in many shows produced by Rowntree Youth Theatre. After a stint as an apprentice coach builder at the York railway carriage works, the acting bug drove him to follow his dreams by studying at Guildford School of Acting.

He has since been a regular on the nation’s TV screens in multiple drama series, from Blue Murder and Coronation Street to Doctors, Casualty and Emmerdale.

The third patron is actress and drama teacher Frances Simon, who moved to York with her family from London 14 years ago. She studied at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, in London, and played the Angel Gabriel in the 2012 York Mystery Plays in the Museum Gardens.

Frances Simon: Actress, teacher and new patron of the Joseph Rowntree Theatre

Frances has been a great supporter of the JoRo, attending many shows and teaching many youngsters who have appeared on the theatre’s stage.

A passionate advocate of the benefits of theatre to young people, she is the director of Frances Simon Speech and Drama Coaching; teaches speech and drama at St Peter’s School, York, and is a LAMDA coach at York Theatre Royal and Stagecoach Performing Arts.

While the JoRo is looking back and toasting the successes of the past 85 years today, it must look to the future too. Hence the launch of the Raise The Roof campaign to raise £90,000 to fund the shortfall in savings available to meet the costs of repairing the roofs after more than eight  decades without needing any such major repairs.

Hannah Wakelam: Joseph Rowntree Theatre’s first Young Ambassador

During the course of this campaign, new volunteer Hannah Wakelam has taken on the role of the JoRo’s first Young Ambassador.

Musical theatre performer Hannah, 20, so far has helped to raise hundreds of pounds by initiating fundraising projects, most notably organising this autumn’s online contest, Yorkshire’s Got Talent, won by York College actor-musician Ed Atkin, 17, in October. Now she is in the process of selling tickets for a grand Christmas raffle.

The JoRo trustees hope more young people will follow Hannah’s lead by coming forward to play their part, inspired by the opportunities that the theatre gives them, both on and off the stage.

Happy birthday: The Joseph Rowntree Theatre’s 85th anniversary teddy bear and York illustrator Elliot Harrison’s new retro card in the style of vintage railway posters

Photographer Duncan Lomax makes snap decision to open Holgate Gallery at home

York Minster: An abstract work from Duncan Lomax’s photographic portfolio

“IT’S a strange and challenging time to be opening a business,” admits York commercial photographer Duncan Lomax after turning his front room into Holgate Gallery.

“Why now? I think people are looking for some good news,” reasons Duncan. “People are stimulated by visual art, perhaps now more than ever.They’ve been stuck at home in lockdown, observing their walls on Zoom, and they’re now more aware of their homes, so in that sense maybe it’s a good time to set up a gallery.

“People are looking for a connection with what they put on their walls or in their rooms, so why would you buy three stones with a white stripe for your mantelpiece?

“That’s why, at Holgate Gallery, it’s not just pretty pictures of York, though there’ll always be a demand for that, but I’d like to think that we can challenge people more. With the creative photography I do, it’s deliberately imperfect and more abstract than the commercial work, which has to be perfect and generally done to someone else’s brief.”

A member of staff in PPE at St Leonard’s Hospice, by Duncan Lomax

The gallery address is 53, Holgate Road, a Grade 2-listed building that previously housed Bridge Pianos before Duncan and his wife Tracy moved in, turning the frontage from white to a deeply satisfying blue.

Holgate Gallery becomes only the second contemporary photographic art-space to be set up in York since the much-missed, pioneering Impressions Gallery deserted Castlegate for Bradford’s Centenary Square in 2007.

Since July 2013, fellow commercial photographer Chris Ceaser has run Chris Ceaser Photography in early 15th century, Grade 2-listed, timber-framed premises at 89 Micklegate, focusing on his own landscape photographs of York, Yorkshire and beyond.

By comparison, Duncan will complement his commercial and abstract photographs and humorous faux Penguin Book cover prints with a regularly changing stock of work by other artists “who might not otherwise have the space to exhibit”.

United We Stand, by Duncan Lomax

Mostly they will be local, but in the first instance, the spotlight falls on Cold War Steve, the alias of Birmingham digital-collage political satirist Christopher Spencer, with his 250,000 followers on Twitter for his classical painting pastiches and predilection for incorporating EastEnders’ Steve “Phil Mitchell” McFadden alongside the Westminster double act of Johnson and Cummings at every opportunity.

“You don’t have to look too far to see which side he’s on,” says Duncan. “It’s putting two fingers up to the Establishment, and not everyone will like it, but he’s just been awarded a Doctor of Arts honorary degree at Wolverhampton University, so he’s now Dr Cold War Steve!”

You can sense Duncan’s enthusiasm for stretching his wings beyond running Ravage Productions Photography. “Doing commercial photography, you spend three hours ‘in the field’ and then just as much time doing the editing, marketing and updating the website. I’ve always thought that feels like time wasted, though it’s not, because it’s part of the job, but I most enjoy being behind a camera.

“So, I thought, is there a way of being creative while also doing the [commercial] job? When we bought the piano shop, it needed everything doing to it, but I could see it being a gallery, shop and editing facility for me as well as a home, so rather than being on my own when I’m working, it becomes a more social experience and another string to the bow related to the commercial photography, while it keeps pushing me on the creative side.

In the red corner: York Central MP Rachael Maskell, whose Labour Party office is nearby, conducts the opening ceremony at Holgate Gallery. Photographer, owner and curator Duncan Lomax keeps his social distance

“I might find there’s no interest in photography in York, but I’m pretty certain there is, and not just for my work, so this gallery is not an ego trip.”

Duncan has been the official photographer for York Minster for several years, notably for the 2016 York Mystery Plays, and has shot portraits, marketing images and PR material for all manner of businesses both in the city and at large.

He also has taught photography to degree level and his pictures have appeared many times in the local and national press, from The Press and YorkMix to the Yorkshire Post, the BBC and The Times.

Born on the Wirral and brought up in Warrington, Duncan played guitar in early Nineties’ Widnes “baggy wannabees” and two-time John Peel Session band 35 Summers, but he was just as likely to be holding a camera as a guitar.

Conference speaker Ian Donaghy: a business portrait by Duncan Lomax

“I’ve always had a camera; I’ve always been interested in photography,” says Duncan, who gives talks to camera clubs to give a different slant on taking pictures beyond landscapes and wildlife.

“I went to see Echo & The Bunnymen in 1982, when they were playing this secret gig where no-one knew where it would be when they bought a ticket. I got right to the front with my mum’s thin Instamatic camera, and there were no press photographers, but there I was, leaning on the stage, with all this dry ice everywhere, hiding the camera away because you weren’t supposed to be taking pictures. The next day I sold the photos at school, so that lit the spark for me.”

Duncan went on to work in PR, but as a writer. “I was always jealous of the photographers,” he recalls. So jealous that the camera would eventually win out because he thinks like a photographer at all times.

“You are constantly looking at the light, checking it, looking outside, and then you see this mackerel sky, and you know you have to stop and go and get the camera,” he says.

The former Terry’s chocolate factory, by Duncan Lomax

“Sometimes, with a photograph, it’s about pre-visualising…but then accidents can happen. That’s serendipity, but more normally, nine times out of ten those circumstances don’t come together.

“You almost know the shot before you take it, but whether you’re able to get it is another thing; whether you can manipulate it and be in control of the camera. Everything has to come together, not only technically but also emotionally. That’s where you get the story.”

He highlights a distinction between the amateur and the professional. “When I was giving a club talk, I remember asking, ‘Who’s shot a landscape photo of Robin Hood’s Bay?’. All the hands went up, but then I said: ‘Hands up, who’s shot a portrait one?’ and no hands stayed up…whereas I’m always thinking of where the headline can go on the picture,” says Duncan.

The photographer’s eye enables him to “show something that you can see that someone else can’t in that situation”, by using such a technique as underexposure.

Light and shade and grand ceremony at York Minster, by Duncan Lomax

“But what you don’t do in either commercial or press photography is let the camera lie,” Duncan says. “Though if you’re doing a commercial shot and you notice there’s a fag end on the floor, you do take it out of the picture.”

Among Duncan’s most memorable photographic work is his remarkable portfolio for the 2016 York Mystery Plays, especially those capturing actors in character, but neither on stage nor posed. “I did those 15 seconds after they came off stage. They weren’t meant to be ‘nice’ pictures, but pictures while they were still in the moment, which is different from portraiture,” he says.

The relationship between photographer and subject is one of trust, requiring skills of communication and connection. “What puts them at ease, I think – and I say this to everyone – is that I tell them, ‘I’m not trying to catch you out’, which is different from some press photographers, whose job is to do exactly that,” says Duncan.

“I’ll ask them, ‘what are you looking for from this photograph?’, as it’s about gaining their trust. That’s the bit I really enjoy; getting that interaction, even if I’m there to photograph a building, I’ll interact with the site manager.”

Toby Gordon as Lucifer, on stage in the 2016 York Mystery Plays at York Minster, by Duncan Lomax

Duncan’s work spans commercial, portrait, event, PR, creative, architectural and travel photography. Can he ever switch off? “If you come across me on a rare day off, I’ll still have my camera with me, so when we go on a walk, my wife hates it as we’ll take three times as long as we otherwise would!” he says.

“Like when we went to Cuba earlier this year, I just had to film the textures of the walls as they tell a story in their amazing colours: they give such a sense of place to Cuba.”

Those Cuban colours are now framed in Pantone style and for sale at Holgate Gallery, the new calling card for Nineties’ guitarist, ace photographer and now gallery owner and curator Duncan Lomax.

More good news has just come his way too: he has been selected to participate for the first time in York Open Studios next April.

Holgate Gallery’s opening times will vary but will be updated regularly at www.holgategallery.co.uk and on Facebook. Visits also can be arranged by appointment via duncan@ravageproductions.co.uk

Cuban Colours, by Duncan Lomax

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.