A GALA celebration to mark the diamond anniversary of the modern revival of the Chester Mystery Plays took place last week at the University of Chester.
The fundraising dinner was held in White’s Dining Rooms at the university and was organised by Inger Trevor-Barnston, a director of the Chester Mystery Plays Company.
Chairman of the Chester Mystery Plays Jo Sykes and fellow board member Nicholas Fry, who is also playing God in the summer production, delivered a light hearted introduction to the plays. The original 25 plays, which tell the Bible stories, were written by Benedictine monks of the Abbey of St Werburgh (now Chester Cathedral) in the 14th century. They were revived in Chester in 1951 to celebrate the Festival of Britain.
Guests included: University of Chester vice-chancellor Professor Tim Wheeler and Marilyn Wheeler; vice-dean of Chester Cathedral Canon Peter Howell-Jones and Sian Howell-Jones; the leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council Cllr Mike Jones and Suzanne Jones; Cllr Stuart Parker (portfolio holder for culture); Cllr Margaret Parker (CWaC representative on the Chester Mystery Plays board); Deputy Lord Mayor of Chester Cllr Jill Houlbrook; David Pickering (a vice-president of the Chester Mystery Plays) and Sue Pickering; Neville Chamberlain (Cheshire Business Leaders) and Joy Chamberlain.
Entertainment was provided by table magician Simon Southerin and A Handbag of Harmonies choir, led by Matt Baker, who has composed the music for the 2013 production. Director Peter Leslie Wild and writer Stephanie Dale joined proceedings after the dinner, following a rehearsal at St Mary’s Centre.
Jo Sykes said: “It was a wonderfully relaxed evening and we really felt that we were among friends as so many of the people there were indeed ‘Friends of the Chester Mystery Plays’! We are hoping to have raised somewhere in the region of between £3,000 and £4,000 which is a very successful outcome as we are still in need of as much financial support as can be achieved.”
WE thought we had a lot of people in the rehearsal room a couple of weeks ago. Turns out that was only the tip of the iceberg!
Last Sunday, about 150 of the 200 or so company members came along for a ‘stagger’ of the first half of this year’s production. This included more than 50 children who performed their songs and movement with enormous enthusiasm – the first time that the adult company had seen the chorus in action. Music director, Matt Baker, has led their rehearsals.
He said: “They’ve been brilliant – they’ve learned some really complex numbers very quickly. They are absolutely loving it – they create the earth and all the animals, plants and trees; get rescued on the ark; and are shepherds’ sheep. Never a dull moment!”
The company also heard from designer, Judith Croft, about the costume designs.
With more than 180 different parts, developing a costume scheme that makes sense is a tall order! There will be a series of basic costumes that are dressed up with key items to change from one character to another.
Judith said: “We’ve gone for a 50s feel for the basic scheme, but with a very traditional look to Jesus, the disciples and the Judeans.” And, as always, Lucifer has a very striking costume. He and his fallen angel assistant, Lightborne, will be in red and black.
A little-known fact is that most company members source their own costumes, so having a scheme is really important to ensure coherence and avoid confusion.
Director Peter Leslie Wild told the company: “We’ve made fantastic progress. The next couple of months are going to be very exciting indeed and our audience is going to be thrilled, astounded and entertained. Can’t wait!”