York Mystery Plays

Modern Revival

After their suppression in Tudor times the plays remained little known until Lucy Toulmin Smith obtained the permission of the Earl of Ashburnham to study the manuscript of the plays, then in his possession, and in 1885 to publish her transcription, together with an introduction and short glossary.[3]

In 1909, The York Historic Pageant included a parade of the banners of the Guilds through the streets, accompanying a wagon representing the Nativity.[6] In December of the same year a selection of six of the plays was performed as a fund-raising venture for St Olave's Church, York.[7] The play cycle was revived on a much larger scale in 1951, in the York Festival of the Arts, as a part of the Festival of Britain celebrations. This was performed on a fixed stage in the ruins of St Mary's Abbey in Museum Gardens and directed by E. Martin Browne. The music, written for the occasion by James Brown, was directed by Allan Wicks.[8] The part of Jesus was played by Joseph O'Conor,[9] (although to preserve mystique he was not named in the programme)[10] with other roles taken by amateurs. In the interests of comprehensibility, the text was abbreviated and modernised[11] by Canon J. S. Purvis. Canon Purvis, who went on to lead the Borthwick Institute at the University of York,[12] later produced a modernisation of the complete text.[13]

Following the great success of the 1951 production, which was said to be "the most widely applauded festival event in the country, with over 26,000 people witnessing the Plays",[10] selections from the plays were staged in the same location at three-year intervals, lengthening to four-year intervals, until 1988. They have aroused academic interest and publications.[14] Usually there was a professional director and a professional actor to play Jesus, with the rest of the cast being local amateurs. Ian McShane played Lucifer/Satan in 1963. Some of the amateur actors such as Judi Dench later became professionals. Directors included E. Martin Browne again (1954, 1957, 1966), David Giles (1960), William Gaskill (1963), Edward Taylor (1969, 1973), Jane Howell (1976), Patrick Garland (1980), Toby Robertson (1984) and Steven Pimlott (1988). The role of Jesus was played a second time by Joseph O'Conor (1954), then by Brian Spink (1957), Tom Criddle, (1960), Alan Dobie (1963), John Westbrook (1966), John Stuart Anderson (1973), local York man David Bradley (1976), Christopher Timothy (1980), Simon Ward (1984) and Victor Banerjee (1988).[10]

In 1992 the production was moved in a modern production, sponsored by a building company, to the York Theatre Royal, with Robson Green playing Christ and with a script adapted by Liz Lochhead. The 1996 production in the same place was all-amateur, with the part of Jesus played by local solicitor Rory Mulvihill, and the script shortened by Lochhead. For 2000, the interest of the Dean of York, Very Rev. Raymond Furnell, led to the most ambitious production thus far.

This content is from Wikipedia. GradeSaver is providing this content as a courtesy until we can offer a professionally written study guide by one of our staff editors. We do not consider this content professional or citable. Please use your discretion when relying on it.