Our weekly column devoted to the spectacular 2018 production of Chester Mystery Plays at the Cathedral is this week written by Jane Dawson, playing Annas, who has been involved with Chester Mystery Plays since 1992 and is acting for the first time in the 2018 production
My relationship with Chester Mystery Plays goes back to 1992.
I was admin director at Chester Gateway Theatre – the actors in Bouncers ‘did’ Cain and Abel, and I organised that and helped behind the bar.
In 2003 I was working at Cheshire County Council and hovered around the edges. By 2008 I was on the board, leading on marketing and production (this was the last time the plays were performed outdoors – a deluge during the first week saw Diane Oxberry presenting the weather forecast from the stage with children singing the Noah music behind her in torrential rain – the first couple of performances had to be cancelled).
In 2009 I started working for the board on a more formal footing, becoming the project manager. Three ‘miniature’ productions followed as part of the summer arts festival in 2010, 2011 and 2012 and then the full 2013 production.
Definitely my favourite of those I’d seen and I was extremely proud and privileged to have played a part, albeit off-stage.
Two Chester City Passions followed and then I had to step down from the hugely enjoyable (if stressful and extremely demanding) role of project manager because of a new full-time job.
However, I wasn’t ready for there to be a Mystery Plays shaped hole in my life! But what to do?
It took me a year to convince myself that I should audition for a part – I’ve never acted, and the last time I performed on stage was at 14 in the school Eisteddfod playing O My Little Augustine on the clarinet (you could see my knees knocking from the back of the hall).
The audition actually wasn’t that scary – the worst part was the workshop that preceded it where we had to improvise medieval characters (I opted to be a tax collector).
I waited anxiously. Would I have a named part? Would I have any lines? What if I was awful and they didn’t know what to do with me?
Christmas came and went. In January I got the news that I would be Annas, one of the Pharisees that pays off Judas and urges the mob to set Barabbas free. Brilliant! I get to say ‘jangling Jesus’!
On the spur of the moment during rehearsals, I have offered to stand in for people who couldn’t make it to get a feel for what it’s like. I’ve been Gabriel, Herod, Joseph, Elizabeth, a messenger, a shepherd. It was great to get a sense of the language and the rhythms, of different characters and styles.
And now I am in my very own rehearsals. A great bunch of people, lots of skill and experience, passion and pride. Terrifying, fun, challenging, stretching, all in equal measure. It’s very different being so focused on one thing rather than spinning plates while juggling and riding a unicycle – loving it!
The Chester Mystery Plays are produced only once every five years in the city. The 2018 production is at Chester Cathedral from June 27-July 14. Tickets are available from www.chestermysteryplays.com, by telephone 01244 500959 or in person at the Chester Cathedral box office.