A partnership comprising Riding Lights Theatre Company, York Theatre Royal and York Museums Trust, working together with the City of York Council are delighted to confirm that the York Mystery Plays will be returning to the York Museum Gardens in August 2012.

In the fourteenth century from sunrise to sunset on Corpus Christi day, the Mystery Plays traveled through the streets of York on wagons, stopping to perform to gathered audiences at various ‘stations’. The plays were revived in 1951 as part of the Festival of Britain when, for the first time, they were performed in the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey in the Museum Gardens. The plays continued to be performed every four years in the Gardens until 1988 after which the Plays moved to York Theatre Royal. The last full-scale production was the acclaimed Millennium Mystery Plays in 2000 at York Minster which was performed to more than 28,000 people.

The vision of the joint Artistic Directors for the 2012 production, Paul Burbridge (Riding Lights) and Damian Cruden (York Theatre Royal) is for a Community Festival throughout the city, with the centrepiece being the return of the Mystery Plays to the Museum Gardens. In a joint statement, Damian Cruden and Paul Burbridge said: “Our vision is to create a bold, exhilarating piece of story-telling theatre on an operatic scale. To re-invigorate the tradition and the language and make these plays accessible to a modern audience. We want to stage the Mystery Plays in a way that resonates with both past and present and appeals to those of religious faith or none. Above all, to bring an extraordinary and passionate performance out of our community, resourced with the highest aesthetic and production values. We want to remind everyone that the ownership of this remarkable tradition rests with the people of York.”

Liz Wilson, Chief Executive of York Theatre Royal said: “The staging of the York Mystery Plays in 2012 in the Museum Gardens will be an incredible spectacle. The Plays have a worldwide reputation as well as a huge York following. We hope to start working with the people of York from today on an event of which we will all be proud.”

Cllr Andrew Waller, Leader, City of York Council said: “The Mystery Plays are a huge draw to the city, and help residents and visitors alike to celebrate our heritage. The year 2012 will mark 800 years since the city gained its Charter and so is a special year. As someone who has been involved with three sets of Mystery Plays on wagons I hope that many York residents will get involved in the plays in Museum Gardens and help us celebrate in style”.

Using the colourful language of medieval Yorkshire, a small number of high-profile actors will join with a large cast of community performers of all ages and backgrounds drawn from across York. Previous famous faces which have appeared in the plays include Dame Judi Dench performing as the Virgin Mary in 1957, Christopher Timothy in 1980 and Robson Green performing as Jesus in 1992. The partnership will be working with community participants from across York on the creation and presentation of the Plays, with many opportunities for people to take part both on stage and behind the scenes. A Community Producer is being appointed to build links with community groups in and around York to ensure that as many residents as possible are involved in the production.

In the journey to 2012 York Theatre Royal and Riding Lights Theatre Company will collaborate to produce Anthony Minghella’s Two Planks and a Passion, on the York Theatre Royal stage in Summer 2011. Set in the shadow of York Minster, the play hilariously recounts the citizens of York staging a medieval production of the Mystery Plays. There will also be opportunities for York residents to take part in this production at the Theatre Royal.

Ruth Ford, who first took part in the Mystery Plays in 1973 said: “I have been involved with the Mystery Plays since I moved to York when my husband was posted to the city to take command of the Yorkshire Volunteers. I had the privilege of playing God in 1996 and 2006. The Plays are a wonderful opportunity for the people of York to get together and they embody the spirit of Christianity”.

The rolling programme of community festival events, especially those held in August 2012, will allow visitors to enjoy a full day out in York whilst benefiting businesses, associations and educational groups from within the York community through collaboration to create this memorable cultural landmark.

Janet Barnes, chief executive of York Museums Trust, said: “We are delighted to be working in partnership with York Theatre Royal and Riding Lights Theatre Company to welcome back the Mystery Plays into the Museums Gardens. The ruins of St Mary’s Abbey are the perfect setting for the plays and, with more than a thousand people being able to watch each performance under covered seating, there will be a fantastic atmosphere in the Gardens. It is more than 20 years since they were shown here and I am sure it will be one of the highlights of 2012”.

To register your interest in the York Mystery Plays and find out the latest information visit www.yorkmysteryplays2012.com