The Chester Mystery Plays
26 June – 13 July 2013
Reviewed by Sue Edwards
The Chester Mystery Plays return ‘home’ after 700 years – to the building in which they were first written in the 14th Century. Normally performed in the grounds of the Chester Cathedral or the amphitheatre, the stage this year is in the centre of the nave, necessitating a deep and relatively narrow performance area and similar limitations on seating the audience. Also departing from their usual format, this is one long performance embracing 11 of the original short plays over three hours with only a 15 minute interval.
If this reads as though disappointment is looming, think again. The designer, Judith Croft and the director, Peter Leslie Wild appear to have had a meeting of minds to make everything come together in such a wonderful fashion. The building contributes its own sense of drama to what became at times a dizzying spectacle as action unfolded simultaneously in several areas of the stage and the three hours rattle by without even a hint of tedium.
Stephanie Dale’s script updates many reference points, including a modern take on the medieval Guilds, such as race-goers (appropriate on the first day of Chester Races) that helps to make the adapted texts relevant while retaining their original message. Local places, conflict zones around the world and even ‘Broken Britain’ feature, reminding us that the turbulence of life 2,000 years ago is not so far removed as we might like to think.
Matt Baker’s musical talents complement the production so well that at times you may not notice the music at all, so well does the composition fit with the visual presentation.
There are a number of highly dramatic points (and some great comedic moments) which I will avoid spoiling, but Francis Tucker’s enticingly wicked Lucifer is as much a part of the action from the background as he is centre stage and Jonathan Sharps, who lives locally and works as a joiner, inhabits the role of Jesus with considerable aplomb.
Clever use of lighting and projection, doorways, windows and multipurpose set dressing tops off a brilliantly co-ordinated and well-performed whole. It’s a must-see.
Tickets are availabl to buy from www.chestermysteryplays.com