CHESTER Mystery Plays 2008 are up and running with hundreds of people already having taken the opportunity to witness a production that is only staged once every five years. In this special behind the scenes report, The Chronicle’s JO HENWOOD records what it’s like to be part of the project
EVERY other night for the past few weeks, my two daughters and I have rushed home from school and work, bolted down some tea and headed to Chester Cathedral Green.
We are taking part in the 2008 Chester Mystery Plays, which have consumed our lives for the past six months.
The three of us are in The Prophecy half of the plays and we help tell the story of the Creation through to the first preachings of a young Jesus.
I play a humble gawper and Alex, 12 and Olivia, 10 take on various roles as members of Jigsaw Music Theatre company.
Main cast rehearsals for the five yearly medieval pageant started back in January in a dismal rehearsal space above Chester Market. Jigsaw had the benefit of the more salubrious small hall at the University of Chester.
I will admit that it has been a hard slog and Olivia has already promised herself “to sleep for a week” once the plays are over but it is an experience all Cestrians should consider.
When the sun drops down behind Chester Cathedral and children from local schools carry candles on stage in a quest for the new Messiah, it brings tears to the eyes.
Backstage, life is just as emotional. Director Robin Goddard, the expert blood maker, smears babies (not real ones) with a sticky red substance for the Slaughter of the Innocents while Roman soldiers warm up with their swords.
The hundreds of performers are squashed into marquees and there is consternation that the men’s changing room is larger than the women’s.
We are all called for 6.15pm each evening to get notes from Robin and musical director Matt Baker and the action starts at about 7pm with a street theatre performance.
For the next three hours, I run on and off stage in The Creation, Noah’s Ark, at Nazareth and in Bethlehem. I listen to Octavius’ proclamations and get dragged into Herod’s Palace by a dodgy urban guerrilla. Judith Croft’s set offers a number of different entrances and exits and I think I manage to cover most of them in my three-hour stint.
Unseen by me, Alex and Olivia transform from gargoyles to a tree and a cheetah before joining me again in the Noah scene as three of the locals.
On certain performances Olivia is back again in the second half with Overleigh St Mary’s Primary School’s choir Cantabile.
I was in both plays in 2003 and it’s been great to be involved again with the kids. It’s an experience I think none of us will forget.
I’ve asked my husband to stop me auditioning again in 2013 as the commitment is unbelievable and a strain on family life but I fear that it will be a bit like childbirth – you just forget how painful it was and go through it all again!