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.
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.
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
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 Dream, Shakespeare’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.