One wouldn’t expect, on a Friday night in July, in Moseley Park, to see God, in shiny gold robes, disco-dancing to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but that was just one of the surprises of the Moseley Mystery Plays, performed on Friday and Saturday night. The text was adapted from “The Mysteries at Canterbury Cathedral” by Kenneth Pickering, and follows the traditional structure of the mystery play (including a fair smattering of middle-English words).
The mystery play is – I think – a fascinating element of the history of English drama – indeed it is one of its cornerstones. The plays tend to be cyclical and tell stories from the Bible with a strong narrative appeal, and once upon a time these plays would have travelled the country, bringing these narratives to life for an illiterate population. One can imagine that they must have been the zenith of entertainment for the medieval peasant, full of scenes both familiar and new, which draw on the emotions.
The Moseley plays reflected the nature of the mystery play, from the high drama of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son, Isaac, to the bawdy humour of the shepherds. The actors made good use of the beautiful setting, and there were some fantastic performances from the cast. I was struck by the relative unresponsiveness of the audience (surely the medieval audience would have booed Lucifer and cheered at the birth of Christ) but this didn’t detract from it, and there was spontaneous applause, often for the excellent use of low-tech props, such as the building of the ark and the parting of the Red Sea. It was an excellent way to spend a summer evening.