In part two of our Chester Mystery Plays diaries, our editor Angela Ferguson reports on what cast and crew are doing in the lead up to this large-scale production being staged at Chester Cathedral this summer.
“If you go to hell I’ll have the kettle on ready!”
This gem of a statement is a snapshot of the often surreal nature of Chester Mystery Plays rehearsals, when musical director Matt Baker reassures those of us who may not make it to the pearly gates that there will, at least, be a well-earned brew awaiting us amidst the flames of hellfire.
As rehearsals progress, no two days are the same, with a cast of around 200 preparing to stage this epic production at Chester Cathedral from 27 June to 14 July this year. Rehearsals tend to involve smaller groups of actors, singers and musicians getting together in turn, but as time marches on and the production comes together the number of people involved grows bigger and the scale of this vast theatrical task becomes clear. And award-winning playwright Deborah McAndrew, who has written this cycle of Mystery Plays, often pops in to see how work is progressing.
Passing God in the corridors
It takes some getting used to, but now I don’t bat an eyelid when I pass God, Jesus, Mary and even the Antichrist in the corridors of our rehearsal building. In fact, attending rehearsals feels like being back in the bosom of a humongous and extremely lovely family.
There are all ages involved and you can see friendships being formed amidst the choral and the acting rehearsals, which can be incredibly moving and equally good fun as we share a laugh on a regular basis. It’s clear that everyone involved is equally passionate about making this a production to remember.
And there are often delicious cakes brought in for the cast and crew to enjoy on their tea breaks. What more can a hungry blogger ask for? Here’s a lovely snap of God enjoying a well-earned biscuit with the Holy Ghost during one such break. The big question is, does God prefer a nice shortcake biscuit or a custard cream?
I’ve been fortunate enough to get involved in this year’s epic production as a blogger and as one of the cast. I’ll be playing Mary’s cousin Elizabeth and I’m also part of the ensemble and the chorus. I’m not scared, honestly! (fingers firmly crossed behind my back). I can tell you right here and right now that this is going to be one incredibly moving production. Catch it if you can.
I’m also chuffed to be welcoming We Are Chester’s illustrator Dai Owen to our Mystery Plays blog, giving his own inimitable take on the preparations already well underway for this mammoth production.
Dai’s reportage style of drawing led to him being the artist in residence for the last Chester Mystery Plays cycle in 2013. There’ll be more of Dai’s work in another post, but in the meantime here’s a taster of the sort of work he has been producing – a charming depiction of the children from the last production in various animal costumes.
The Chester Mystery Plays are being shaped and honed by a dedicated and talented crew of some 150 people, headed up by artistic director Peter Leslie Wild, Matt Baker and movement director Cariad Morgan. The team are fantastically encouraging and supportive, including assistant director Vicki Duckett, stage manager Sam Cheadle and assistant musical director Joe Mann.
We’ve now reached the stage where the children (pictured below) are getting involved in rehearsals. And we’re even outgrowing our rehearsal space, with some rehearsals moving to a bigger location as the production takes shape.
I’ll finish for now but I’ll be back with regular updates as rehearsals progress. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with another Mystery Plays gem, this time from our director Peter Leslie Wild as we rehearsed a scene featuring the Antichrist and Lucifer. Watch out for more Mystery Plays snippets and updates very soon.
“We can open up hell again for the big finale.”