02 June 2016
God’s own players
The theatre director Phillip Breen starts a new production with an exercise book listing, on one page, the characters in each scene and, opposite, how he visualises the staging. For his latest show, though, no stationer’s shop sold a volume that was up to the task.
“With this,” Breen explains, “there are so many characters and scenes that I used sheets of wallpaper taped together. And, when I’d finished, it was about three metres wide and four metres deep.”
The scale of this actor flow chart reflects the scale dimensions of the latest quadrennial staging of the York medieval Mystery Plays, which are being performed, for the first time in sixteen years, in the city’s Minster (to 30 June). The nave has been transformed by banked seating for 1,000 spectators facing a stepped stage, that looks as high, wide and white as the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. At the base of the steps is a pit variously representing the gates of hell, the bow doors of Noah’s ark and the tomb in which the crucified Christ is lain.
“It’s a bit like doing an Olympic opening ceremony,” says Breen, “because from the back of the auditorium to the back of the stage is around 110 metres. So everything has to be big and spectacular to hold the audience’s attention.”
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