Revisiting Mankind

Programming upcoming shows is often a challenge; there are a lot of factors that go into the decision of what we’ll be working on (and there are always a lot more ideas in the works than you see at any given moment). We want to find plays that will be interesting for our audience, and which give us new challenges. Particularly given this latter consideration, it may seem counterintuitive to revisit old ground, but on occasion it feels like the right decision.

Our autumn production in York, “Mankind”, is one we’ve played with before. Last February we staged a reading of it for an academic conference in Bristol. (You can read some of our thoughts on that in earlier entries on this page.) After completing that project, we agreed that it would be nice to stage it as a full production. We had a lot of fun with it last winter, and we had a terrific cast who really put a lot into it, but the same circumstances which made it a reading rather than a full performance meant that we felt there was a lot more to be got out of the play. “Mankind” is a pretty physical show- after all, the dichotomy between the desires of one’s earthly being and man’s higher ideals is what it’s about. The demons should really get a chance to interact with the audience, to put into physical being the sense of fun that is so seductive to Mankind.

The nice thing about re-exploring a familiar show is that you have the chance to look at different parts of it, to emphasize different things, and to use what you’ve learned previously. I remain convinced that a sympathetic, approachable, and above all human Mercy is really the linchpin of the play. Without that, Mankind’s despair has no remedy, but moreover, he has no concrete reason to return to Mercy’s precepts. A more restrained set of demons, however, allows for a quieter interpretation of Mercy; with the demons really let off the hook to play, Mercy will have to possess a greater strength, and on occasion anger, to balance them. This is not to suggest that any of the characters should tip over into becoming caricatures; on the contrary, their ability to remain real is maybe even more important, particularly if, good or evil, they are making an attempt on the souls of the audience as much as Mankind.

A second look at a show is another chance to tease out new things. After all, with historic drama, every time a show is revived, it’s getting a new life, a new look, and adding a new layer to its own history. And every show comes with a new cast, and each new group of people bring something different to the table. I’m looking forward to taking another look at “Mankind”, and see what turns up. Chances are, it’s something I haven’t even imagined yet.