Medieval 'Mystery Plays' theatre festival returns to Chester

Mystery Plays' Director John Young speaks to ITV's Gamal Fahnbulleh

A festival of community theatre, created in the 14th Century, is returning to Chester.

The Mystery Plays are based on well-known stories from the Bible and performed every five years.

Originally, the plays were acted out by members of the community from the back of horse-drawn carts pulled around the city.

In their modern form, a cast of 200 actors will perform inside Chester Cathedral.

The cast are drawn from Cheshire, Merseyside, North Wales and beyond. Credit: ITV News

Director John Young said the plays are part of a "rich medieval history" once designed "as a way of educating the people."

He added: "The Mystery Plays have transitioned and grown into this massive community event that happens in Chester every five years.

"A community of people come from Chester, from Wales, from Liverpool... and they all come together to tell stories."

The director is "excited, buoyant, scared" about opening night of the five-yearly plays. Credit: ITV News

Organisers believe the event brings together people who would never have otherwise met, from the actors to musicians to the backstage crew.

"This group of people would never, ever be in the same room," said Mr Young.

"It's really joyous to see all of those people interacting, mingling, forming friendships and relationships - and having conversations - they just wouldn't have.

"I think that's really beautiful."

Cast members listen to notes from the director. Credit: ITV News

The Dean of Chester Cathedral, Tim Stratford, is impressed by the volunteer cast who bring the plays to life.

He said: “I was appointed Dean in 2018 which happened to coincide with the last cycle of the Mystery Plays at the cathedral.

“I was overwhelmed by the production with its huge community cast. I am delighted that our magnificent nave will once again be the backdrop to this unique and historical event, bringing both locals and city visitors into the cathedral.”

The plays are based on well-known stories from the Bible, like that of Noah's Ark. Credit: ITV News

The last-recorded performance of the original plays was in 1575, after which they were banned for "Popery" by Queen Elizabeth I.

A modern revival did not happen until the Festival of Britain in 1951.

The event runs at Chester Cathedral from 28 June to 15 July.