Performed November 26th to 29th 2014
The Mystery Plays
No mystery as plaudits come flooding home
THERE aren’t many amateur dramatics groups that can offer their members the chance to play God, a midwife, a counsellor to Herod and death all in one night.
Nor are there many which could tell the story of Noah’s Ark, and make it relevant to the 21st century, while constructing and deconstructing the boat live on stage to a well-known song from the musical Barnum!
So, to say Riding Mill Drama Club’s latest production was ambitious is an understatement.
For the talented 20-strong cast were tasked with mastering a jaw-dropping 50 characters and a total of 11 plays to pull off their own unique version of the Mystery Plays which ran for four nights from November 26 to 29.
The original Mystery Plays were the popular entertainment in 15th and 16th century England, often staged by the trade guilds, and set on carts with stage effects and scenery which toured town centres.
The 11 Bible stories taken on by Riding Mill were adapted from the versions performed in York, Chester, Coventry and Wakefield by well-known director Chris Heckels.
Performed in modern dress, the costumes featured shepherds which wouldn’t have looked out of place on the set of Emmerdale and a sharp-suited Herod, played by Mike Smith, which had the feel of an angry Lord Sugar in The Apprentice boardroom – with added menace.
Each story took the audience through a myriad of emotions, from intrigue and comedy to tragedy and despair, made all the more powerful by clever staging which put those watching in the centre of the action.
Riding Mill Parish Hall was bisected by a long narrow stage with the audience seated at each side. At one end of the runway was the main stage and the other was wall space used to project images to set the scene.
Shaun Fenwick opened the show and gave a devilishly good performance as Lucifer in the Creation play.
However, he wasn’t banished to hell for too long and reappeared in the second play, the Creation and the Fall of Man, as Satan.
He successfully convinced an easily led Eve, played by Liesl Allcock, that she and Adam (Ian Lockey) could eat the forbidden fruit.
Ian Lockey then quickly transformed into Cain, with Shaun Fenwick his brother Abel, as they played out the story of the first human born and the first to die on earth.
A highlight for me and, it seemed, most of the audience came when Mike Smith took to the stage as Noah and acted out the tale of the flood of 40 days and 40 nights.
Hazel Osmond’s portrayal of Mrs Noah as a drunken troublemaker who refused to set foot on board the ark gave the comedic relief needed after the intense opening scenes.
The audience then broke into song as the cast set about building the ark.
A powerful performance from young William Lockey, who played Isaac the sacrificial son of Abraham (Steve Larkin), made the fifth play emotional and memorable.
But hilarity soon returned to the stage with the play of the Annunciation of the Birth of Christ, which saw Mary, played by Angela Lockey, reappear from behind a curtain within seconds sporting a large baby bump.
In the play of Herod the Great and the Magi the three kings, played by Hazel Osmond, Steve Larkin and Liesl Allcock, were portrayed as commuters at Jerusalem central station in search of a star.
The three shepherds, played by Sandy Gardner, Frances Hewitt and Ian Lockey, had their own play which featured a comical sketch where they hunted Mak the sheep thief (Shaun Fenwick) and a stolen sheep (William Lockey).
Moyra Gardner as the Angel Gabriel linked the action between The Stable play and the Flight of the Magi before many of the cast members returned to the stage to bring the night to an emotional conclusion with the play of Herod the Great and the Slaughter of the Innocents.
The talent, hard work and professionalism of the entire cast, production and technical team shone through and should be applauded.
Gemma Brown (Hexham Courant)
Set Design By Matt Osmond
Full Set Design PDF