The Chester Mystery Plays, a cycle based on biblical texts, date from the 14th century and are performed every five years in the shadow of Chester Cathedral. It's a complex and overwhelming enterprise by anyone's standards, but my apprehension at the thought of such a project being held in the open air of the famously fickle British summer, with a non-professional cast of more than 300 local people, quickly turned to admiration for their hard work and success.
The Prophecy, the first set of collected playlets in the cycle, had a sizzling start, with a brilliant, jazzy Lucifer attempting a coup in Heaven, only to be stopped in his tracks and banished through a smoking trapdoor into Hell. What followed was a bright and bustling "Creation", which burst with colour as scores of masked animals and birds roamed the stage. "The Temptation" was cleverly staged, with a puppet as the serpent and the Devil dressed as a conjurer pulling the strings.
The highlight of the Chester cycle has always been the story of Noah, and this production was no exception. At the heart of it is the bickering relationship between the bemused Noah and his gawping, gossiping wife. This playlet was a complete musical in itself, bringing together song, dance, the heartache of the Great Flood and the renewed hope offered by the receding waters.
As part of "The Nativity", there was a scene full of innuendo and word-play as the Welsh shepherds watched their flock. This humorous inclusion of the locals from over the border emphasised the fact that the plays were written for a particular region and its audience, with the humour specific to that area.
The one weak link was "Massacre of the Innocents". Although it was thoughtful in its use of young men and boys as child soldiers forced to commit barbaric deeds, I felt that the massacre was too long, and duly lost its power and effectiveness.
The set was well-designed, with numerous different levels, alcoves, doorways and trapdoors, all adding to the production's multi-layered ability to depict the realms of angels, men and devils. The costumes were an interesting mix of the traditional and the contemporary, with the angels resplendent in their golden robes, and the devil's minions dressed as conjurers and jokers. The animal masks were hand-made masterpieces, and it was a joy to see a showcase for flair and creativity rather than shop-bought uniformity.
The Chester Mystery Plays were a true gem. My only regret is that I will have to wait five years to see them again.
Megan Eluned, student, Bethesda, GwyneddReuse content