York Mystery Plays

The Waggon Plays

An experimental production using horse-drawn brewers’ drays and market stalls, was performed around Leeds University, in 1975.

In 1994 the Leeds-based historian Jane Oakshott worked alongside the Friends of York Mystery Plays, the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of York and the York Early Music Festival to direct in York the first processional performance of the plays in modern times. This production involved nine amateur drama groups each taking one of the plays, and touring it to five playing stations in central York using pageant waggons.[10][23]

A production in a similar format in 1998 featured eleven of the plays, and for the first time the modern York Guilds were involved for some of the plays, either directly or as sponsors of performances.[24]

Following the large scale production in York Minster in 2000 the Waggon Plays were the only regular cycle performed in the city until 2012 when the static plays were revived. The waggon Plays also used the Museum Gardens As one of the stations for performances during this period, maintaining the link between St Mary's Abbey and the Plays established in the 1950s.

For the 2002 production overall management transferred to a committee of the Guilds of York: The York Guild of Building, The Company of Merchant Taylors, The Company of Cordwainers, The Gild of Freemen, The Company of Butchers, The Guild of Scriveners and The Company of Merchant Adventurers. Ten plays were offered, again with the assistance of local drama groups.[25]

In 2006, twelve waggons performed in the streets, in conjunction with the York Early Music Festival.[26] Two complementary collections of images of this production: 'wide angle' and 'zoomed in'

The 2010 production again featured twelve waggons, performing at four stations.[27] At the same time the only known surviving manuscript of the plays was on display at York Art Gallery[28]

Two plays (Creation and Noahs Ark) were performed on waggons at two stations as part of the York 800 celebrations in 2012.

The performances on waggons were once again brought forth by the Guilds in 2014 continuing the established four yearly cycle.[29]

Language in modern productions

In general, modern performances of the plays use some degree of modernisation of the text, either by a radical policy of replacing all obsolete word and phrases by modern equivalents, or at least by using modern pronunciations. An exception is the productions of the Lords of Misrule, a dramatic group[30] composed of students and recent graduates of the Department of Medieval Studies at the University of York.[31] Their presentations use the authentic Middle English both in the words used and in their pronunciation. They have regularly contributed one of the waggon play productions.[23][24][25]

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