The Globe Mysteries, Shakespeare's Globe, London
Friday 12 August 2011
Tony Harrison's renowned adaptation of the medieval Mystery plays – those religious dramas created by the craft guilds and a supreme example of community theatre – was an all-day event when it was performed at the National in the mid-Eighties and in 1999. For this revival by Deborah Bruce at Shakespeare's Globe, the author has condensed and revised his original trilogy into a single play, broken by an interval just before Crucifixion.
Shortly after 7.30pm, God the Father is seen creating the universe, which is lifted from packing crates by the angels – yellow tennis balls for the planets, a bobbing bundle of green and red balloons for the Tree of Knowledge. Just under three hours later, the Angel Gabriel is donning the apron of a Globe usher and dividing the yard of groundlings with an arbitrary barricade straight down the middle into the damned and the saved at Doomsday.
The craftsmen were undaunted by the scale of their enterprise. The abiding charm and emotional power of the plays arise from their assurance that a cosmic drama can be presented in terms of the colloquial, the homely and the concrete. This is communicated anew here in Bruce's revival with a 14-strong company that audibly relishes the alliterative, down-to-earth thump of Harrison's Yorkshire-accented couplets.
William Ash, a slight, sweet-natured figure in simple T-shirt and jeans, is affectingly fallible and fragile as Christ, pulling you into the tormenting tussle between duty and fear that stems from obeying the will of David Hargreaves's God the father.
But the experience is too rushed and short to weld the audience into the kind of agnosticism-shelving body of witnesses we became during the all-day promenade at the National.
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