The Archbishop of York Joins Cast and Crew for the York Mystery Plays Opening Today
The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, met cast and crew busy working on the Mystery Plays that return to an epic stage in York Minster this evening for the first time in 16 years. In line with many centuries of tradition, they are opening today, 26 May, on the feast day of Corpus Christi.
The Archbishop greeted some of the many hundreds of members of the local Yorkshire community that have been involved. The biggest York Mystery Plays ever staged have only been made possible thanks to the commitment of community members undertaking everything from playing roles in the cast, to being MysteryMakers behind the scenes working on props, costume making, stage building and make-up.
The Archbishop also blessed the enormous bespoke stage that has been built within the magnificent Nave of York’s famous Minster. Tonight will see the Cathedral transformed into a 1,000 seater theatre to dramatise the greatest story ever told – from the creation of heaven and earth to the last judgement. It’s the first time in 16 years and only the second time in their near 700 year history that the Mystery Plays have been performed at the Minster, following sell-out performances in 2000.
The plays, which run until 30 June, are guaranteed to entertain locals and tourists alike with a story of good versus evil, of live and death and of love, betrayal, loss and hope. Lead actor Philip McGinley is playing the role of Jesus alongside a community cast of over 200. Philip, who was born in Lancashire, is best known for his roles as archer Anguy in HBO series Game of Thrones and as Tom Kerrigan in Coronation Street.
The 2016 production has been developed by an award winning artistic team, including director Phillip Breen, of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and writer Mike Poulton, who recently wrote the scripts for the RSC’s productions of Hilary Mantel’s global best-selling novels Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies. The set, costumes and props have been designed by Theatre Designer Max Jones, whose many accolades including winning the Linbury Biennial Prize for Stage Design.
Nicola Corp, Producer of the York Minster Mystery Plays, commented;
“It’s been a Yorkshire-wide community effort to bring these epic plays to fruition with volunteers from throughout the region featuring in the cast and busy working behind the scenes. It is wonderful to see this hard work from both volunteers and professionals come together with a spectacular show within the dramatic setting of York Minster. It is absolutely the must-see event in York this Summer.”
Vivienne Faull, Dean of York Minster, commented:
“After a gap of 16 years it is a great pleasure and enormously exciting to stage the Mystery Plays at York Minster again. The stories of the plays are stamped across the very fabric of the cathedral, from the carvings in the stonework to the stained-glass in the Great East Window, which depicts the cycles dramatised in the Plays. We hope experiencing the performances in such an extraordinary setting will be a truly moving experience.”
President of the Mystery Plays, the Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu, commented:
“I’m thrilled that York Minster is continuing the region’s cultural and religious heritage by staging the Mystery Plays. To have God’s story from creation to last judgement brought to life in this place of wonder will I hope inspire all who come to see it, as the Minster itself has inspired people for over a millennium.”
Patron of the Mystery Plays, His Royal Highness the Duke of York, added:
“I am delighted that the York Mystery Plays are once again to be performed in the setting of the Minster and as Patron, I wish great success to all those who are involved.”
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Tickets can be purchased online at www.yorkminster.org/mysteryplays2016 by calling 01904 623568 or in person from the York Theatre Royal’s Box Office at the De Grey Rooms in St Leonards Place, York, and at York Minster’s visitor admission desks.
About the York Mystery Plays
The York Mystery Plays date from medieval England and dramatise the Christian message from creation to judgement through 48 short plays. They were financed, organised and produced by the city’s craft guilds, which represented York’s various trades and skills. In medieval England, the word ‘mystery’ meant ‘trade’ or ‘craft’, and it also refers to a religious truth or rite – hence the name Mystery Plays.
They were traditionally performed in the city’s streets on the feast day of Corpus Christi – which occurs annually sometime between 23 May and 24 June. The guilds would often perform the Plays appropriate to their craft, for example the shipwrights the ‘Building of the Ark’ and the butchers ‘The Death of Christ’.
There’s evidence the Plays were performed in York from the 1300s for around 200 years before their suppression in 1569. A manuscript of the York Plays dating from around 1463-77 still survives and is kept at the British Library.
The performances were revived in 1951 as part of the Festival of Britain and, in-keeping with the Plays’ heritage, cast members over the last 60 years have traditionally been amateurs drawn from the local community, with just one professional actor. Famous faces over the years have included Dame Judi Dench, Robson Green and Ray Stevenson.
Since their revival, the plays have been performed in the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey, on the stage of the York Theatre Royal and, for the first time in 2000, they were performed in York Minster’s spectacular Nave. In 2016, after a gap of 16 years, they will return to the Minster.