Review: York Minster Mystery Plays 2016

Scene from Christ's Ministry in the York Minster Mystery Plays 2016, held inside York Minster. 
Picture: Anthony Chappel-Ross.

Scene from Christ's Ministry in the York Minster Mystery Plays 2016, held inside York Minster. Picture: Anthony Chappel-Ross.

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Running to almost four hours the York Minster Mystery Plays 2016 is a production on a biblical scale. Not quite as long as the six days it took God to make heaven and earth, but epic nevertheless.

Last performed four years ago in the city’s Museum Gardens, this time the cycle moves indoors to York Minster for the first time in 16 years and it looks spectacular. The Gothic nave provides an impressive backdrop and against it designer Max Jones and director Phillip Breen have created some beautifully breathtaking moments.

Mr and Mrs Noah in the York Minster Mystery Plays 2016. Picture by Duncan Lomax.

Mr and Mrs Noah in the York Minster Mystery Plays 2016. Picture by Duncan Lomax.

From the creation of the planets, which sees the nave filled with helium balloons, to the story of Noah and the Flood which welcomes giraffes in Sou’westers and zebras with flight cases to the stage this is an instantly accessible production.

It needs to be because there is much ground to cover. Beginning with some of the Old Testament’s most famous characters, the Plays give way to the story of Jesus’s birth, death and resurrection and it’s here where the setting is at its most inspired.

Philip McGinley, the only paid professional in a cast of hundreds, is a diminutive Jesus, but he has a masterly command of the stage. From the Leonardo da Vinci Last Supper tableau to the crucifixion, much of the second looks like an ancient religious painting.

What brings this production to life is the community cast. Some have been professionally trained; others have never stepped on a stage before. All are unpaid volunteers who give the Mystery Plays heart and soul.

The Nativity in the York Minster Mystery Plays 2016. Picture by Duncan Lomax.

The Nativity in the York Minster Mystery Plays 2016. Picture by Duncan Lomax.

It’s not entirely seamless. Given the extent of the size cast there a few flat deliveries, the sound system is occasionally muffled and half an hour could have easily been shaved off the running time without losing any of the production’s epic proportions.

It’s also a little chilly and on Wednesday night refreshments were limited to a few ice creams after the outside bar blew away.

That aside, this is large-scale theatre at its best. So put on an extra pair of socks, take a warm coat and grab a scarf, this is a production not to be missed.

To June 30.

Helen Goalen and Abbi Greenland of RashDash.

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