Tuesday, 26 June 2012

REVIEW: The Mysteries, Customs House + Arbeia Roman Fort

Sitting outside for two hours in the nipping North East wind does not sound like it would be much fun. Throw in a mind-blowing production into the mix though, and spirits are instantly lifted whatever the weather. The Customs House takes The Mysteries to the Arbeia Roman Fort, South Shields, and proves this.

Originating in the medieval 10th Century, The Mysteries tells the story of the creation of man, and the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Christ, focusing on specific parts of the Gospels. As these stories are generally very well known, it’s needless to say that the production was going to have to provide something unique for it to be compelling. This was certainly not an issue.

A lot of ground had to be covered in just a few hours to project the Biblical tales in their best light. Thankfully, the play was paced marvellously. I felt that the emphasis was placed upon all of the right moments; not once did a scene feel rushed, nor were they dragged out for too long.

The stories are told mainly in verse, with occasional input from the beautifully melodic choir. The cast of some twenty actors, both professional and amateur from throughout the North East, take on over fifty speaking roles. I’ve seen smaller productions with fewer characters struggle to manage this successfully, but no signs of complications were present with The Mysteries. Each and every character remained believable and valued.

Stepping into the sandals of Jesus is a big commitment. David Robson portrays the Lord in all manners of eloquence, a representation to be proud of. He was able to stir emotions from the core of every audience member, many of who were reduced to tears by the end of the evening. The scene of the Crucifixion specifically hit the heart quite hard, the powerful moment projected effectively with the use of a mesmerising cross upon which we are forced to watch Jesus suffer. At appropriate intervals a slight interjection of humour was provided by the three shepherds, played by Peter Lathan, Karl Hicks, and Steven Stobbs. Their merry singing and comic banter ensured that the overall mood didn’t drop too low.

Both cast and crew appeared to handle the outdoor production magnificently. The Arbeia Roman Fort is a striking location and adapted itself well throughout the duration of the play. The wind did interfere ever so slightly with the microphones, but as the audience was seated very closely to the stage area, this was not a problem. A few cast members performed barefoot at certain points. This was done with great skill; you’d never guess they were standing on bare rock and pebbles!

Director Peter Lathan has successfully pulled together the many elements that provide this miraculous production. The Mysteries opens up to the audience the beautiful selection of Biblical stories to provide an entertaining and emotional production that will forever remain unforgettable.

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