Deborah McAndrew , best known for playing Angie Freeman in Coronation Street in the 1990s is the writer of this years Chester Mystery Plays. The Plays which have a long tradition dating back to the 15th century are held every five years. Deborah spoke to us in advance of the Plays dress rehearsal:
How did you go from being in Coronation Street to your current role?
I suppose its kind of the other way around really! I went to university then teacher training college. I was an actor, but I was probably always going to be a writer. I started acting and I just kept working. I started out in Corrie early doors, and I did three years there and then I went back to the theatre, which is were I wanted to be. I popped back to Corrie in 97 because they asked and I wanted to get a deposit for a house, and then I left again! I’ve basically been working in theatre for the last 20 years. For the last 17 of that I’ve been really focused on writing. I had always wanted to write. I like acting, I might go back to it. I had a baby in 2001, shes 17 now so I focused on writing completely during that time. The acting parts dry up, in theatre especially. I played very young for a long time and there comes a time when you’re just too old. Then when you get to 55-6 theres some interesting parts again. I’ve got so much writing on my desk and this has been a dream job for me.
How did you become involved?
I saw the plays in 2013.. I had always been interested in doing Mystery Plays and I had always liked the idea of doing some, but I didn’t think it would be Chester. I didn’t have any specific ambition, I didn’t think about it to be honest. Peter Leslie Wild (director) gave me call and we had a chat and asked me to put a treatment together. I submitted it to the Board and they commissioned me.
What form/language are the plays written in?
Its written in early English with bits of French and Latin. we haven’t used any of the French but theres a bit of Latin in the singing bits. Theres no modern dialogue in it. I’ve done it differently this time. I’ve treated it as a play so theres a uniformity to the language, we never break out of the language or the world of the play. The language connects us to the source material which is the Bible., then to the world and the way those people were interpreting the Bible stories they know. I feel that putting modern language in there, it would jar with what I wanted to do as a holistic thing. The songs by Matt Baker have a more uniform style. What’s fantastic about these plays is depending on how you treat them and how you interpret them, you can get a completely different experience. I was thinking about what the world was like in 2018..
What can people expect if they haven’t seen the Plays before?
My principle challenge is that the audience understand the story. The original plays do take a lot for granted as far as what the audience know.. The way that I’ve staged it and tried to make the narrative clear, I hope they get one big story as opposed to lots of little stories. I hope that they will feel that these plays are about now and our times. In the original plays a really important character (Jesus) just turns up and everyone knows who he is.
What challenges does the setting inside the Cathedral present ?
Lots of challenges. Sound is a problem, because the audience can be far away, and theres a big booming acoustic.. the actors are not professional actors, and even professional actors would struggle to fill it. The plays are performed in the day as well as the evening, and in fact even in the evening , its light for 2 hours still at this time of year. It doesn’t get dark until the very end of the play and theres light streaming through those windows which is very beautiful. A lighting designer has to design for the dark as well as the light, so most of the challenges are technical. The wonderful technical team have done a great job. Of course one of the plus sides is scale. it tells you “these are big stories” that speak to us through the ages, that are about life, death, temptation, war.. love.. All these big ideas, forgiveness and redemption. The Cathedral context is epic!
How have you found working with actors from the community ?
Theres something so special about a big community cast like this. Theres something so moving, because what actors do, sometimes, is they do too much acting. Nick, playing Jesus, is doing a great job, but he’s also just a bloke! You cant fake it, hes so authentic a bloke from Chester, and that gives you a way into Jesus. An actor would be terribly important playing Jesus, Nick just walks on and does it! When you get the big singing moments and everyone faces the front, I defy anyone not to have a lump in their throat, its so uplifting and moving.
What are your impressions of Chester?
I knew it a bit , but not as well as I know it now. I’m going to be coming back more often now! I live in Stoke on Trent, I’m from Yorkshire originally. Its lovely, down by the river, lovely shopping area, Storyhouse is beautiful. Whats different about doing the Mystery Plays is I’ve got to know the people of Chester a bit as well. The underbelly of the city, people like yourself, who are part of the scene here. I’ve got a sense of how interesting Chester is, its not just black and white buildings. Theres a really interesting community of people who love Chester, theres a lot going on!
Why should people come and see the plays ?
the Plays are only on every five years. its a huge undertaking for everyone involved, for the cast of regular people who have day jobs and then they come and do this. Amazing commitment. It connects you to the past , your forebears in Chester. Its tradition , but its not all about history and heritage, its about now. The themes that I’ve drawn from, the way we’ve interpreted the stories for our times, they are timeless stories that still have things to say to us. I hope people will be entertained, moved and uplifted ,and will have had an experience that you dont get all the time.
Thanks to Deborah for her time!
Tickets for the Mystery Plays available here: https://chestermysteryplays.com/tickets/ticket_sales_linkpage.html