I was excited to see this story at BBC News about a “revamped” revival of the medieval mystery plays in York, England. I got a feeling for these plays in a series of mystery novels by Margaret Frazer set in 15th century England, the first of which is called A Play of Isaac. They strike me as the kind of thing that Diarmaid MacCulloch talks about in the first chapter of his massive The Reformation: A History. He spends the first chapter trying to convey a feel for what it was like to be Catholic in those days, when Christian and Catholic meant the same thing in the West.
One of the points he makes is that people were relaxed enough within the religion to play within it, and some of that playfulness shows through in the descriptions of some of the stagings of the mystery plays in Frazer’s novels. This playfulness was not evidence of a lack of reverence or faith or spirituality (as also comes through in the novels): the playful scenes that elicited laughter were followed by reverent scenes that elicited sincere piety. But there seems to have been more room for a whole-body, whole range of life’s experiences within these religious plays.
Anyway, I’m thrilled to read about this wonderful production, with its heavy involvement of local amateurs because that’s true to the history of the plays.