Sunday, 13 October 2013
Chester Mystery Plays at Liverpool Cathedral
Saturday nights have been a touch dull recently. Too much watching of 'Strictly' and 'X-Factor'. 'Strictly' just about tolerable, thought the formula is a little tired now, but 'X Factor' unbearable. Especially with Nicole Schistherface. So planned an outing this week - to Liverpool for a meal out and a bit of live theatre.
Other family members not terribly keen when I told them of my plans - a trip to the cathedral in Liverpool to see a revival of the Chester Mystery Plays which we missed in the summer. It only comes round very five years and I was sorry to have missed it when it was on, because I wanted to support several of the amateur cast who I know, including the young actress who played Mary. But atheist husband and wannabe cool teenager not desperately thrilled by idea of spending Saturday evening watching Bible stories, no matter how impressive the staging. Bribed them by arranging a meal first. Very good pre-theatre menu in Bistrot Jaques. And so, full of Steak Chasseur, we headed for the cathedral.
I hadn't been in the cathedral for nearly 30 years when the grumpy one took me there when we were courting. Perhaps his atheist views not so strong then. Or was it just the architecture which impressed him? It is a beautiful building and provided a stunning backdrop for the production, with the steps and the upper level being used cleverly to show the route to heaven. The audience were seated not in pews as I expected, but in rather uncomfortable folding chairs. And I was sitting in close proximity to a man who had a rotten cold and kept sneezing revoltingly into his handkerchief. Yuck!
Despite this I enjoyed the performance. There was a huge cast of local people from Chester, from children of about five or six, to pensioners. All the musicians were amateurs too. The whole thing was put together by Mr Chester Theatre, Matt Baker, who I think also wrote the score. If I wasn't such a lazy blogger, I'd link to his Theatre in the Quarter Company and check this. But I am lazy and inept at such technicalities. He appeared on stage too on a couple of occasions, playing a piano accordion with gusto in the pub scene. A very talented man who contributes hugely to cultural life in Chester.
My favourite scene was the arrival of the animals onto Noah's Ark, with the children in masks; the crocodile looked about 5 and snapped his jaws with great enthusiasm. The children also made an excellent job of recreating the Garden of Eden, complete with bird song and animal noises. I also liked the scene where Mary, dressed as a waitress, admits to Joseph that she's in a bit of trouble. Mary sang beautifully, but unfortunately the huge space meant that we didn't hear her so well. I was surprised she didn't have an individual mic like the Angel Gabriel, dapper in white suit, who performed a Sinatra Style number when telling Mary of his plans for her. Another scene recreated the Chester Races effectively: children in racing silks riding on shoulders while hidden by the roaring crowd. And lots of girls in posh dresses rather worse for wear, just like in town after race day. No surprise then when quite a few of them end up heading for hell in the next Judgement Day scene. I was a bit bothered that Eve was led off to hell while Adam makes it to heaven. Is that what happens in the Bible? Blame the woman then.
There were also some very moving scenes, such as the one pictured above where Herod kills all the children. The tiny bundles were unfurled to show flags: a message for a world where tyrants are still killing children. I was also close to tears in the scene where Jesus's body is taken down off the cross. The music was very powerful at this point and added to the poignancy of Mary's grief.
So what was the verdict from my companions? Teenager quite impressed with the staging and she recognised a few of the cast from various drama productions she's been involved in so she was quite happy. Husband less so. But then I haven't always been that keen to stand drinking lager from a plastic glass in venues which smell of stale beer and sick to watch some of the bands he likes to see. So it's payback time.