Tony Harrison's Mystery Play
Jim Hutchon was in the nave...
Alison Woollard’s truly epic production of Tony Harrison’s adaptation of the medieval mystery plays marks two welcome returns. The return of drama to the Cathedral since the demise of the Festival, and the return, after a 450-year interval, of the Chelmsford Cycle of mystery plays. Staged in the round with the audience on three sides surrounding the nave, Brian Greatrex’s setting was grand and imposing, and utterly in character with the fine old building housing it.
Also in character was a large cast of convincing actors who took us through key scenes from the Old Testament up to the time of the Nativity, from a spectacular Creation, with God creating the angels, then day, night and the animals, before casting out Lucifer. Adam and Eve in Paradise - then banished for succumbing to Lucifer’s temptation - give way to the tale of Cain and Abel. A giant evocation of Noah’s Ark takes centre stage, followed by the heart-rending tale of Abraham and Isaac, before Joseph has his suspicions of his wife’s fidelity allayed by the Annunciation, and Jesus is born.
Successive scenes depict the visits of the shepherds and the kings, and the paranoia of Herod, who, having murdered all the male babies around, is himself visited by death.
The language is simple and direct, and the colour and pageant of these ‘plays within the play’ must have had a truly staggering impact on illiterate medieval peasants, whose only knowledge of the Bible was the dread fire and brimstone of the priest.
Musical Director Eric Witham’s compositions, and the band and choir he created for the occasion provided an evocative accompaniment to this, one of the highlights of Chelmsford's drama this year.