Liverpool audiences will have the chance to see an abridged version of the Chester Mystery Plays this October.
The most successful production in living memory was staged this summer in the nave of Chester Cathedral. It was so successful that it’s going on the road: The Second Coming can be seen in the Well of Liverpool Cathedral on 11 and 12 October.
Tickets for The Second Coming are now on sale through chestermysteryplays.com, cathedralshop.com, by phone on 0151 702 7255, or in person from the Liverpool Cathedral shop.
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Review of Chester Mystery Plays 2013 by Andrew D Thompson Chesterontheweb.com
It was a privilege to review the latest version of the Chester Mystery Plays performed inside Chester Cathedral for the 2013 adaptation.
The Cathedral itself provides the idyllic setting to perform this edition of the Plays. This truly magnificent building dating back originally from 1093 and representing all the major styles of medieval architecture from Norman to English Gothic was the impeccably sublime location for this contemporary production.
During the Middle Ages the Bible was written in Latin and Church services were also conducted using this same medium. Apart from priests very few people could read Latin and were therefore oblivious of the manuscripts comprised in the Bible.
The story of the Bible therefore remained a “mystery” to the proletariat until the first Mystery Plays written by medieval monks were first performed in the 13th century by the Monks themselves and later presented by the Craft Guilds from the 14th Century until they were disbanded in the 16th century after the Reformation.
The Plays were first performed in Chester, Coventry and York and the original text of the Chester Cycle still survives consisting of twenty five mini plays from both The Old and New Testaments.
This was an outstanding production lasting just over 3 three hours and involving over 300 members of the local community participating in various roles from Actors and Musicians to Choirs and Soloists.
These plus the numerous elements that worked behind the scenes demonstrated what a sheer abundance Chester has in local talent from school children through to more senior members of society. Under the exquisite leadership of Stephanie Dale, Peter Leslie Wild, Matt Baker and Judith Croft in their various roles they combined to produce a performance that was both magnificent and enthralling.
photographer Neil Kendall
The Company of Actors were exceptional throughout with particular reference to the incredible performance by Nicholas Fry as God. His commanding depiction of the part was outstanding for the duration of the performance epitomising and radiating superiority and professionalism. Recommendation must also be given to Francis Tucker as Lucifer either relishing in the spotlight of centre stage or in a more peripheral figure controlling events from the side-lines he demonstrated all the various aspects the part demanded from tempter to spiv, capturing all the malicious and conniving elements with perfection and ease clearly loving every minute of the part from someone who was born to perform. Finally David Edwards as Gabriel, Jeremy Grange as Herod, Janice Fryett as Queen Herod and Jonathan Sharps as Jesus all excelled in their various roles to make this a truly spell binding performance.
The Play written by Stephanie Dale was a truly a superlative piece of work portraying the original story from the Old and New Testaments Scripts through to adding a modern day interpretation of events encompassing national issues relating to modern day tribulations through to the native depiction of Chester Races cumulating in drunken and depraved behaviour in the locality represented stunningly in the Antichrist passage.
The music composed by Matt Baker and performed by local Choirs and Musicians was absolutely astounding and again demonstrated the incredible talent that Matt possesses. To create original music for the Play itself which embraces numerous genres from classical to musical hall incorporating folk and jazz with traditional styled anthems was inconceivable and yet achieved with consummate proficiency by the ingenious capability of this extremely talented composer. The quality and professionalism of the vocalists, choirs and musicians was awe-inspiring and should not be under estimated without which Matt would not have been able to produce such a high specification of composition excellence.
photographer Neil Kendall
The design of the set blended perfectly against the background of the Cathedral and this coupled with the amazing sound effects and lighting including two large windows converting to screens combined to achieve an astonishing presentation which was mesmerizing and exceptional for which full credit must be given to Judith Croft Designer, Chris Ellis Lighting Designer and Peter Herbert Production Manager.
This new presentation from the Creation to The Last Judgment was all contained and bestowed in one performance of just over 3 hours separated by a short interval for which full credit must be attributed to Peter Leslie Wild Artistic Director.
With numerous performers on stage at any one time and several minor intrigues supporting the main plot the stage was always alive with activity and this accompanied by choirs and musicians continually enthralled the audience in this spectacular presentation.
Particular sections were especially poignant and heart rendering from Noah through to the Nativity but the ending of the first half was of most significance with the Massacre of the Innocents. Here the mothers with their new born in their arms preparing for the execution of their young at the hands of the forces of Herod. However incredibly the babes unfold into the Flags of the Middle East and are displayed on stage representing the innocent slaughter of young and old alike in our present time in what can only be described as one of the most oppressed regions in the world today. This was a piece of genius that left the audience in profound reflection and contemplation.
The Second part commences with the The Last Supper through to the Passion and Ascension again poignantly portrayed by the Actors and superbly assisted by the music and large screens depicting the Palm Sunday procession through the streets of Chester.
photographer Neil Kendall
The portrayal cumulating with the Antichrist represented by Race-Goers intoxicated through the copiousness of alcohol and resulting behaviour through to the Last Judgment. Here a “large demon like cat” depicting the mouth of hell appears from the back of the nave and is fed furiously by Lucifer and his enthusiastic team as the debauched and hedonistic characters that had previously appeared from Eve, Herod and his family through to those who revelled in the Antichrist depiction are quickly despatched into the bowels of Hell. That should make future Race-Goers think twice.
We also see God and Christ both welcoming those who have been saved from Adam to the Poor Man and his Wife who despised throughout the performance finally find peace in heaven which was denied them in during life by those who now residing in a warmer climate. The performance was remarkable throughout and evidently highlighted the abundance of the rich cultural talent that exists in the Chester area. Whatever your religious beliefs maybe this production should be enjoyed by all based on the artistic merit of the various attributes employed during this enactment, coupled with the rare opportunity to witness such events at every five year intervals.
Every five years, the spectacle and history, miracles and mystery that are the Chester Mystery Plays come to the city. Actors, singers, musicians and local children take part in this huge community production, which tells the greatest stories ever told. Written in the 14th century, by monks of the Abbey of St Werburgh (now Chester Cathedral), the plays tell Bible stories from The Creation to The Last Judgement. Originally produced by the guilds of the city the Chester Mystery Plays were banned in the 16th century. A modern revival was established in 1951 to celebrate the Festival of Britain and the plays have been produced approximately every five years since. Tickets from 01244 500959 or from www.chestermysteryplays.com
Chester Mystery Plays is a highly collaborative enterprise involving the talents and goodwill of all kinds of people at all kinds of levels. Chester Mystery Plays Limited, a company with charitable status, was formed in the 1980s with the sole aim of ensuring the active survival of the Chester Mystery Plays. The Plays The Chester Mystery Plays form a spectacular festival presented mainly by members of the local community under professional direction. This rare Chester production has become a much anticipated highlight in the British arts calendar, attracting people from all over the world. One of the largest community events in the UK, hundreds of enthusiasts of all ages from throughout the area make up the cast, crew and the support teams working in administration/marketing and front of house.
A Brief History Mystery Plays were created all across Europe from the 13th century as a means of celebrating the stories of the Old and New Testaments for the Feast of Corpus Christi. Other famous Mystery Play “Cycles” in England were written in Coventry, York and Wakefield. The scripts, as in the case of the Chester Cycle, were often written by medieval monks. Originally performed inside the churches (as planned for Chester in 2013), from the 14th century they were produced by Crafts Guilds and performed in the open streets and market places on pageant carts ("waggons"). Performed by local people, both scripts and performances changed each year to remain current and have popular appeal.
The production of the Plays, so important to the local community, was suppressed in, and following, the Reformation and the last recorded performance prior to the 20th century revival was in 1575.