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Southwark Mysteries: a once-in-a-decade experience

Leigh Hatts

Southwark Cathedral was filled to capacity for the first night of The Southwark Mysteries on Thursday night.

Southwark Mysteries: a once-in-a-decade experience
Southwark Mysteries: a once-in-a-decade experience
Merryn Owen as Jesus and Michelle Watson as The Goose

The performance was in the nave with a 350-strong audience sitting on four sides to create a theatre in the oblong.

Politicians including Southwark Council leader Nick Stanton and Cathedrals ward councillor Adele Morris chose to see the Southwark Mysteries rather than watch the party leaders' televised debate.

Simon Hughes, speaking as a Southwark Mysteries co-patron, said: "It's a tribute to tonight that lots of people who might have found other things attractive are here rather than being elsewhere.

"Tonight was a really energetic and engaging performance. It was really good entertainment and really profound.

"Compared with 10 years ago it was an entirely different production. It was like seeing something fresh."

The modern mystery play, written by local writer and poet John Constable, had been performed only once before in millennium year 2000. The revival comes, as suggested at the time by Simon Hughes, a decade later like the Oberammergau play.

At the opening the audience was surrounded by figures from Bankside's past including Shakespeare and Oliver Cromwell who in keeping with his reputation kept his hat on in church. The text is peppered with nearby historic locations with the audience roused from any complacency by mention of the Jubilee Line and Superdrug.

There is a cast of around a hundred as with ancient annual mystery plays once staged by traders in Chester and York. Southwark's own community cast works seamlessly with the professional actors who include Merryn Owen as Jesus.

Michelle Watson, playing The Goose, appeared in the first production as Moll Cutpurse played this time by Caroline Garland. Charlie Folorunsho plays John Crow. David Meyer was the surprise choice for God.

School children from St Jude's School, Victory School and Goose Green School are angels and Cromwellian soldiers.

Two further sell-out performances take place on Friday and Saturday.

John Constable, who was received with cheers from the cast at the after show party, thanked both sponsors and volunteers who he stressed had made the new production possible.

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