Director’s Notes: Why Revive ‘Mankind’?

This week Laura, our Artistic Director, explains some of the reasons behind our upcoming revival of ‘Mankind’.

Given that there are several pages of “that would be an interesting project” lists in the HIDden files, it might come as a surprise that we’re dusting off Mankind and putting it on again. Although it is one of my favourite medieval English plays, there are a lot of reasons beyond that for why it’s coming back, and we thought it would be nice to let you in on our logic.

Our production last November was something we were really proud of. In our ideal world, it would not have been a one-off performance. Circumstances beyond our control, meant that we had to limit the performance to a single evening. And that was a shame, because we knew that there were lots of people who had wanted to come but could not be there on that one and only night. Moreover, we have a brilliant cast who put a lot of hard work and energy into the play, and they deserved more than one night’s showing of what they’d created. So we were toying with the idea that we might bring it out again, even before that performance happened.

Another major factor was an unexpected opening in our calendar. We had been in discussion with Charles Hunt about putting on the York Fall of Angels this spring, to go along with the Mystery Plays taking part in the Minster during the mid-summer. In 2012 we worked with Charles to produce The Noah Play on a waggon in the streets of York, as an adjunct to the large-scale production in St Mary’s Abbey. It was a nice reminder that the plays have a dual history, and that both forms have come to have a place in York’s heart and history. We were looking forward to doing it again.

Sadly, Charles passed away suddenly in November, on the day that Mankind was performed. We didn’t think that it would be right to continue with The Fall of Angels without him, as it had been his brainchild in the beginning, and so we were suddenly left without a spring project. With the cast still nearby and probably able to remember the production easily, it made sense to use the space for the theoretical revival of Mankind. The production is dedicated to Charles’ memory, not only because of the timing, but because if he had been in better health we felt he would have made a wonderful member of the cast. We knew he wouldn’t be able to take on that project, but one of Charles’s great gifts was for fostering new talent, and we’re sure he would have approved of how the character turned out.

Staging another medieval play in some proximity to the Mystery Plays, which have evolved far beyond their twentieth century status as “medieval revivals” into being a modern phenomenon in their own right, was important to us as a way of continuing to give the community a connection to the historic aspects of the plays of that era. But (without getting into the academic arguments about an evolutionary model of drama development) we are also looking at Mankind as a step forward in theatre, too. We are hoping it will be part of a greater exploration of some of the directions morality plays took as time went along.

Not all decisions are written in moonlight and dreams, some are utterly practical and hard-headed. In most respects, the revival of Mankind comes from that sort of pragmatism. But that’s not to say we aren’t excited about it. It will be nice to get this wonderful group back together, and to share this very funny and occasionally sweet story with more of you! We hope you’ll be there with us to see it!