What are the Mystery Plays?
Mystery plays use Bible stories to tell the story of Mankind from the Creation to Doomsday. In the Middle Ages, mystery plays were an important part of the religious and dramatic life of many major cities in this country, including Lincoln.
The plays were performed by non-professional companies based on the medieval craft guilds. Many of the plays, such as those telling of the Crucifixion and Resurrection, were powerful and very moving but the plays also contain plenty of music and humour. Although religious in origin, as the plays evolved they became increasingly concerned with the human condition; with our doubts and fears; our relationships with each other and with our communities; our human strengths and weaknesses.
The Lincoln Mystery Plays Company began in 1978 and exists to bring people together to perform the medieval mystery plays – at approximately four-year intervals – together with other productions, in Lincoln Cathedral and other venues in the City and surrounding area.
The Company was founded by Keith Ramsay who worked tirelessly to establish the plays as a central part of the theatrical life of the City. In the years since Keith retired in 2000, other Directors have developed the plays in new – at times controversial – directions.
Like our medieval forebears, we are a non-professional company, open to all, drawing our actors, singers, musicians, costume makers and set builders from the local community, though we have always worked with people with professional experience as Artistic Directors, and in areas such as lighting and music.
For some, of course, the Mystery Plays are essentially a religious experience, but our approach is very much to see the plays as theatre, with all the power of tragedy and comedy that is drama at its best, and we emphatically welcome people of all faiths or none. Our style is very much one of ensemble playing, with actors working closely together with each other and with audiences in a more intimate style, concentrating on the dramatic and emotional strength of the plays, making them enjoyable, moving and meaningful for our times.
We perform a modern version of the medieval N-Town text, written by Professor Edgar Schell and Keith Ramsay, This makes a superb script, retaining the rhythms and verse forms, and the dramatic styles and feeling of the medieval original, while being entirely accessible to present-day audiences. Music, too, plays an integral part in our productions and is a vital element in the emotional power of the drama.
A particular joy for us and for our audiences has been that we have always been able to perform the plays in the magnificent setting of Lincoln Cathedral though, over the years, we have toured to a variety of other places both within our area – particularly to Southwell Minster – and also to the United States, France and Italy.
Apart from the Mystery Plays themselves, we aim to give other performances from time to time, particularly of more modern works. In past years, these have included two plays written for us by Roy Clarke, together with Our Country’s Good and studio-style productions of Miracle and Mystery and The Hollow Crown. Most recently, we performed The Last Post, a play specially written for us by two local writers which was about the tragedy of the First World War and its impact on the Lincoln community. This played to packed houses and the cast of over a hundred local people received standing ovations every night.
The Company is administered by a registered charity, Lincoln Mystery Plays Trust Limited. An important part of the Trust’s role is to raise finance for the plays. In the past, we have been grateful for support from local councils and from national arts organisations, as well as many individuals from the community. We have also been supported by the generosity of private companies and are keen to obtain sponsorship for future productions of our plays.
Among our key aims and objectives are; to create a theatre company that is welcoming, inclusive and open to all; to produce work that both our audiences and our Company members find stimulating, challenging and fulfilling; to be a vital part of our cultural and community life; to encourage interest in theatre; to offer opportunities for people to develop theatre and performance skills; and – of course – to enjoy all that we do.