A look ahead to the 2014 York Mystery Plays

Waggons roll past York's iconic minster

Waggons roll past York's iconic minster - Credit: Archant

York prepares for a summer of medieval mystery

The York community works hard to pull together the four-yearly waggon mystery plays

The York community works hard to pull together the four-yearly waggon mystery plays - Credit: Archant

Hundreds of actors, set builders, wagon pushers and musicians are ready to roll in York, bringing the streets to life with biblical tales on an epic scale.

One of the mystery plays' waggons pitches up in York's Museum Gardens

One of the mystery plays' waggons pitches up in York's Museum Gardens - Credit: Archant

After four years of planning, the city will be teeming with 600 community players on July 13th and 20th entertaining the crowds with traditional wagon-based Mystery Plays.

In the simplest of terms, the plays tell the story of the world from the beginning of all things to the end of all things. They include God’s creation of the world, the joyous crowd scenes in Jerusalem, the brutal crucifixion and the great set-piece dramas of the Harrowing of Hell and The Last Judgement.

The bible-based stories have been performed by the Guilds of York on wagons in the city since medieval times. The tradition of bringing stories to the masses waned for a while but was successfully revived on a four-year cycle in the late 1990s by York Festival Trust, which has taken the event from strength to strength ever since.

Roger Lee, chairman of York Festival Trust, said: ‘We’re looking forward to another bumper year; the 2010 plays were seen by over 2,000 people from all over the world, and this year we have expanded into the weeks between the Sunday performances with a festival that explores the plays and medieval music.’

The trust has engaged a new artistic director for 2014 to build on the work of previous productions and to take a fresh look at the 48 surviving scripts.

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‘I am delighted to have the opportunity to work with such a diverse group of people to create something that is so unique,’ said Deborah Pakkar Hull. ‘The plays mean so many different things to those who participate and who come to watch.

‘The cycle I’ve chosen for 2014 tells the story of the struggle between good and evil, beginning and ending in the heavenly domain, before being played out on an earthly, human plane with Jesus either present in, or the focus of, a series of dilemmas, difficulties and enterprises.

‘This is a human story that, hopefully, will resonate with a 21st century audience as much as it did for the original medieval audiences. This year will also feature a specially-commissioned speaking chorus at each of the playing stations linking the plays.’

Co-ordinated, and sometimes performed, by the Masters of the York Guilds and Companies, the mystery plays bring together one of the largest groups of volunteers in the city’s calendar.

This year, hundreds of people will tell 12 stories on a pageant of wagons moving between stations throughout the city accompanied by a medieval musical processions and a chorus specially written for the 2014 cycle.