Wigs, beards, action: Behind the scenes as York Minster prepares for Mystery Plays
York Minster - which is preparing to host the plays for the first time in 16 years and only the second time in its history - was yesterday absorbed with the hustle and bustle of theatre life as professional make-up artists were busy perfecting wigs, facial hair and designing make-up for the major production.
Work was also in progress building the set for the plays in the nave as the minster’s transformation into a 1,000-seater auditorium takes shape ahead of performances later this month and next.
Professional theatre wig, hair and make-up artists are leading a team of local volunteers to create the on-stage appearance for over 200 cast members. Everyone from teachers, vicars, priests, students, doctors and bakers have been persuaded to take part.
Deb Kenton, creative wig, hair and make-up supervisior, who has previously worked for the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) as a touring wigs mistress, said: “Make-up really helps to bring the characters to life on stage.
“It’s a hugely exciting opportunity to use our skills to wield the magic and help create the stunning visual spectacle that has historically accompanied these epic plays.
“It is also a fantastic challenge because an actor may be playing a role requiring them to have a beard in one scene and then be clean shaven in the next. Make up, wigs and facial hair must all be able to be removed quickly so that actors can change characters quickly throughout the play.”
She is working with Jules Greenan, who has worked on hair and make-up for a range of shows, TV and film, including Cats and the Rocky Horror Picture Show. They are tasked with creating make-up that works across numerous character and costume changes.
The numerous beards and wigs that will be required are being created along with designs for make-up ranging from that required for Jesus through to realistic scars for the devils.
There is no firm date as to when the plays started, but one early report suggests that they were performed to celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi in 1376.
A spokeswoman for York Minster said yesterday: “The York Mystery Plays date from medieval England and dramatise the Christian message from creation to judgement through 48 short plays.
“Much of York Minster would have been in existence at the times the plays were first performed,” she added.
It is the first time in 16 years and only the second time in their near 700 year history that the Mystery Plays have been performed at York Minster, following sell-out performances in 2000.
The 2016 production is being developed by an artistic team, including director Phillip Breen, of the RSC, and writer Mike Poulton, who recently wrote the scripts for the RSC’s productions of Hilary Mantel’s best-selling novels Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies.
The set, costumes and props have been designed by theatre designer Max Jones, whose work has been admired at theatres including Shakespeare’s Globe.
There will be 41 performances of the plays in total, running run from 26 May to 30 June. Tickets can be bought online at www.yorkminster.org/mysteryplays2016 by calling 01904 623568 or at York Minster’s visitor admission desks.