Film ID:
YFA 2041



Visitor Tabs


This widescreen film documents the work and organisation involved in staging the York Mystery Plays of 1973.  The film is a great homage to the widescreen road-show presentations of the 50s, 60s and 70s with introductory music, prologue and intermission. 

Title – York Mystery Plays 1973
Plays produced by Edward Taylor
New Translation by Howard Davies
Setting and costumes by Alison Chitty
Christ John-Stuart Anderson
Commentator Douglass Waft
Film produced by Patrick Olsen
This film is a record of the months of work and preparation which go into the York Mystery Plays.

The first part of the film presents a history of the plays through the narration, with medieval drawings and paintings.  The narrator states that there are 48 religious plays in all, dating back to 1340 when they were performed by ancient craft guilds.  They were performed on waggons [note that this is the original spelling] in the streets of York on Trinity Thursday every year.  York has the most complete cycle of the four that still exist.  The plays were revived in 1951 and have been put on every three years ever since.  The film highlights the 1969 production, for the first time entirely amateur, which had sets designed, modelled and painted by Patrick Olsen. 

Intertitles: ‘York Mystery Plays 1973’   ‘plays produced by Edward Taylor’  ‘new translation by Howard Davies’  

Next there is a spoof version of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer introduction, with the title: ’Neslo Films Present’.  There follows a list of full credits on Super 8, and the opening text, ‘this film is a record of the months of work and preparation which go into the York Mystery Plays’. 

It opens with Edward Taylor, the director, sitting in a chair working on the script.  Next are auditions and various people, actors, etc. working on the play.  People arrive at Mansion House, where, inside there is a publicity event. Those attending, including the national press, local dignitaries and actors, drink wine, eat nibbles and talk with each other.  Some are seen leaving later on.  

As the film shows the Museum Gardens, the commentary gives a history of the Abbey where the plays are staged.  It focuses on the North Walls of the ruined abbey which provide the background.  

Next, Edward Taylor arrives at St. William’s College where there is another press call.  Again those attending are drinking wine and chatting.   A consort of musicians is playing early music and dressed in medieval costumes.  Edward Taylor is seen leaving.   

At the old Observer Corps building off Lendal, work starts in the wardrobe department for the forthcoming production.  A group of elderly women are looking at patterns, making dresses and fitting the actors.  Among them is Olave Dench, mother of Judi Dench who performed in the 1957 production as the Virgin Mary.   

Next, in another building, the stage director studies the stage plan and has a model of the set. 

The actors take part in early rehearsals.  At the Museum Gardens the audience grandstand is being built, and scaffolding is erected by local builders. The narrator notes that it can seat 2100 people and has lighting and royal boxes. 

The Duchess of Kent visits the wardrobe department to see costumes being made and meet the staff. The Lord Mayor, Alderman Jack Wood, is with her.  They go on to see a rehearsal at the Guild Hall and are accompanied by other local dignitaries.   The actors perform several scenes in front of the Duchess.  All the actors are in casual dress – John Stuart Anderson, who is playing Jesus, is wearing bell bottom trousers. 

Intertitle:  ‘Intermission’   (It was filmed is on two reels.) 

The second part of the film opens in the MuseumGardens where the stage is being built by Shepherd Construction.  Timber is being fitted onto a tubular steel frame, covered with boards, and cut railway sleepers give it a medieval appearance.  The cross that Christ will carry is shown as well as the trap-door that Adam and Eve use to come on stage.  At the first rehearsals scheduled to be done on stage, it is pouring with rain.  The actors and other crew, including Edward Taylor, make their way over to the De Grey Rooms.  The following day is sunny, and rehearsals continue on the main stage.  Again, Edward Taylor is present (only today with his arm in a sling.) 

Next, onto the booking office on Museum Street, where organisers sort out the arrangements, and in the booking room, customers buy tickets referring to the seating plan on the desk.  The commentary notes that 57,000 seats in total are available at prices from 50p to £1.50. 

The first dress rehearsal is also a photo call.  Television crews and the press are present, photographing the actors and filming the rehearsals.  There is the scene of Christ on the Cross, and a BBC ‘Look North’ crew film the nativity scenes. 

On opening day, crowds arrive for the show, and the program sellers are dressed in medieval costumes.  The first performance gets underway. 

The last 14 minutes show brief scenes from several of the pageants, interspersed with actors waiting back stage.  It begins with The Creation and Fall of Man, followed by the Nativity; Herod and the Magi; Lazarus being raised from the dead; The Incredulity of Thomas; Pontius Pilot washing his hands; Christ led to Cavalry; The Crucifixion; The Resurrection; and finally, The Last Judgement.