Friday, 26 June 2009

Rogues' Gallery

As promised, in this post I have compiled a comic-strip collection of the best photos from the big night. As something like 300-400 pictures were taken (and received with much simpering gratitude) I think it was no mean feat to boil it down to this handful. No prizes I'm afraid. These, and all other photos can be viewed on our facebook page (follow the badge to the left) and will soon (I promise!) appear on flickr. In other news, the last outstanding footage of the night shall shortly (fingers-crossed) be coming my way, after which we can get on with editing the DVD. Enjoy the gallery!


Waiting... (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Harden)

'This Is the Truth' (Photo courtesy of Kevin Byers)

The Expositors get things moving (Photo courtesy of Stephen Kelly)

Good Souls and Bad Souls (Photo courtesy of Mary Byers)

Our trusty cinematographers (Photo courtesy of Mary Byers)

The Creation of the Universe:
Deus commands, Michael guards (Photo courtesy of Kevin Byers)

The Creation of the Universe:
Lucifer works the crowd (Photo courtesy of Mary Byers)

The Creation of the Universe:
Kinky boots (Photo courtesy of Alan in Belfast)

The Creation of the Universe:
Lucifer gets tackled (Photo courtesy of Stephen Kelly)

The Creation of the Universe:
What a crowd (Photo courtesy of Stephen Kelly)

The Creation of the Universe:
Mmm, symbolism (Photo courtesy of Alan in Belfast)

Angels and Demons (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Harden)

Interlude #1:
An Expositor weeps (Photo courtesy of Kevin Byers)

The Creation of Man:
Boy Meets Girl (Photo courtesy of Kevin Byers)

The Fall of Man:
Deficiens and Deus (Photo courtesy of Kevin Byers)

The Fall of Man:
Girl meets temptation (Photo courtesy of Stephen Kelly)

The Fall of Man:
Girl rather likes temptation (Photo courtesy of Kevin Byers)

The Fall of Man:
Holy damnation, Batman! (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Harden)

The Fall of Man:
N-O no! (Photo courtesy of Kevin Byers)

Interlude #3:
Christianity for Dummies (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Harden)

Mary cogitates over a cuppa (Photo courtesy of Kevin Byers)

The Nativity:
"Would you like a biscuit?" (Photo courtesy of Stephen Kelly)

An Expositor weeps, again (Photo courtesy of Stephen Kelly)

A happy ending? (Photo courtesy of Kevin Byers)

'Poor Little Jesus' (Photo courtesy of Kevin Byers)

Saturday, 20 June 2009

The Big Night

Why oh why did I promise to post again tomorrow? As you can see, that never happened. Instead I've been gathering photos from all around, uploading them to our facebook page (follow the badge to the left and take a peek), setting up a flickr account for the Belfast Mystery Players (whereon the pictures will soon also be uploaded) and adding some snaps into the previous entry to brighten it up. While I am still awaiting some more footage, which should allow us to get on with editing a DVD together, I think I've now done enough housekeeping to allow me to get on with the narrative...

One of the biggest difficulties we had over the course of this project (and that's saying something) was fixing a date for the performance. Initially, we had hoped with ridiculous and naive ambition to do three nights, but cast-availability did not permit it. Then, having scaled things down to the idea of a single day, we had to move the date from early to late May, owing to the busy schedule of events being held at Queen's. In the event, the 30th was still damned busy.
And so, after a relaxing morning, various members of the team brushed past fans watching the FA Cup final and assembled at base camp. When I arrived, I was greeted by a podium Dave and Chris had obtained...somehow...for the Creation scene, Gerard was busily writing essays and Dave and Chris were watching our mystery predecessor on DVD - 'Testaments', a mammoth mystery-cycle staged at Queen's exactly ten years ago when Dave was a mere undergraduate (he's now a big bad PhD student).

Over the next couple of hours we gathered all the supplies we could need - guitar strings, blu tac, food - the usual. Then we hit our first potential roadblock. Having lugged boxes of drinks, glasses and grub for the wrap-party to College Green, we found a reception was already set up for a Law conference. Despite having all assurances the place would be ours come 9pm, we were perturbed. Luckily, our worries were unfounded and everything was set up for later.

And so, for the next while, we did every last-minute preparation we could think of as the cast and crew assembled. This included repairing, or trying to repair, angel-wings and inflating sheep of a rather questionable nature for the Nativity scene. Everyone was in a good mood as we managed, for the first and unfortunately the last time to gather everyone on the team in the one place. There were surprisingly few worries, arguments or tantrums (at least if such things did occur, they were kept well hidden). Although we had completed a fantastic-looking dress rehearsal the day before, it was wonderful to see everyone in their costumes, and all the props assembled. It looked far far better than a shoestring-budget student play should do.

We gather outside... (Photo courtesy of Kevin Byers)

Having moved outside on University Square to chat with parents and teachers and to pose for pictures (and, as usual, bemuse passers-by) we soon headed out for the performance. At the main gates we were confronted by a heartwarmingly large crowd of faces both familiar and unfamiliar. Apparently, there was much murmuring of 'is this the right place for the mystery plays?' While the majority of the cast took their places inside the campus gates for their scenes, and Chris and our trusty undergrad production-manager Paul Murphy ran around setting everything up, myself, our Expositors and Lorraine took our places in front of Queen's. After much nervous checking, and waiting, and checking again that everyone was in place, I chimed the chords of the performance's fanfare, welcomed the huddled masses, and we were off.

Off we go... (Photo courtesy of Kevin Byers)

After a lovely, clear and (most important of all in an open-air performance) loud rendition of 'This is the Truth' from Lorraine Clakre (Ms Seraphyn), Daisy Brindley and Bridget Innes(Expositors 1 and 2) got the ball rolling. The crowd seemed to enjoy the girls' last-minute insertions of their native Stoke-on-Trent and Leeds, respectively, to the metropolitan litany of "Belfast and Béal Feirste, Chester and York, Rome and Jerusalem" I had written. The crowd also had much fun when we invited them to choose either the good souls' or the bad souls' gate into the campus. It was exciting inviting the audience to move with the performance for the first time. Luckily everyone was happy to oblige, and Daisy and Bridget did a great job throughout the night shepherding the flock.

A mystery cycle, geddit?! (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Harden)

After the preliminaries, we moved onto our first scene proper - 'The Creation of the Universe', written by my fellow MA student Will Liddle. As I hope you can see from the photos, staging it in front of the Lanyon building's main doors, with the podium set up for the Heavenly press conference looked fantastic. As the doors were still, well, working doors, however, we were briefly interrupted by a couple making their way to a function in the Great Hall. And when did they choose to enter? Just as God and her Heavenly cohorts entered the scene. Perfect timing. There was also, later, a similar though much lower-key late entry from one of our audience members. Anyway, such minor hiccups aside, the scene worked fantastically. After all our worries in the preceding days everyone spoke beautifully, in particular Deus (Tripti Tripuraneni), who cut an imposing and fashionable figure with just the right amount of aloofness. Not a line was forgotten, the iPod worked to allow Lucifer (David Falls) to enter accompanied by the Rolling Stones' 'Sympathy for the Devil' and angelic white coats and wings were mercifully easy to remove. Our writer, Will, was playing the Archangel Michael and myself the Archangel Gabriel , and so after Lucifer is dragged aside, we had to drag Ms Deficiens (Rachael Cairns, our blessed sole original angel) away. While I remembered to remove coat and wings, I forgot to place devil-horns on her head, and had to be reminded by her. Not terribly authentic but we got there in the end.

An interruption... (Photo courtesy of Kevin Byers)

Next, I strapped my guitar on once more and played, appropriately enough I thought, the traditional English tune 'The Beginning of the World' as we moved the audience through the black and white hall and on to Eden for 'The Creation of Man', written by myself and Chris Jackson (in half an hour no less). Here, after thankfully getting a big laugh from the audience from a joke I'd written for the Expositors about Barack Obama, things progressed. The sight of Adam (Gerard O'Brien), in white bath robe, rising like a zombie from a small patch of garden in the quadrangle got a great laugh, as did that of Adam and Eve (Lauren Reid) flirting with each other like shy teenagers. At this point in proceedings, Chris, my co-producer and on the night all-round-on-the-ground-manager joined us to watch the show. Unfortunately, I'd just remembered I had left the biscuits, crucial to a later scene, back at base-camp, so Chris dashed back to grab them. After some ringing and texting between the two of us, though, the crisis was averted and the biscuits were safely in place.

Adam meets Eve... (Photo courtesy of Stephen Kelly)

Between man's fall and his creation we had some more music (the medieval tune 'Vite Perdite' this time') and some more Expositoring. It's impossible for me to choose a favourite from all the scenes in the performance. However, without a doubt 'The Fall of Man', written by David Falls, looked the most impressive. Staged on the lush expanse of grass in front of the admin building, it was the busiest scene in terms of characters on stage. As you can see from the pictures, we had Deus and Ms Deficiens, looking like they should be on the cover of Vogue, on either side of a tree, with the sun gently falling through the leaves and branches. To stage-left we had Adam playing football and fondling grass with Ms Serpahyn and Ms Cherabyn (Christina Lauro). Then, centre-stage was Eve, with Lucifer snaking around the tree before which she sat, tempting her with a bottle of WKD, with the grass littered with even more bottles. This was perhaps the most engaging scene. The simultaneously hilarious and actually quite pointed choice of WKD as the fruit of knowledge, the sight of Eve slipping into an adolescent tantrum and arguing with God (made all the more effective, I think, by having a female God), and Adam's side-splitting bouts of apophaticism and bewilderment worked beautifully.

'The Fall of Man' - what a scene... (Photo courtesy of Alan in Belfast)

Next, I slipped my guitar from my shoulders and took my place for my first piece of acting in what must be a decade. 'The Nativity', written by another of our MA students Linda McCrory, began with Joseph (Laura Downes) hunched to one side, while myself (as Gabriel, of course) ate biscuits and pretended to drink tea with the Virgin Mary (Rebecca King) and her trusty servant (Carla Bryson). In Alan in Belfast's glowing, much appreciated review of the night ( - to which I shall return in my next post) he points out an hitherto unnoticed ambiguity in our play. In it, he wanders whether Mary's sidekick was her mother. Others suggested it was her sister, or simply her friend. While unimportant to the working of the scene, the different responses people had to the character of the servant were very interesting to see. I particularly like the idea of it being Mary's mother, as Carla played the scene with the perfect amount of maternal affection for Mary and maternal-in-law (if I can coin an unwieldy phrase) for Joseph. Laura, playing Joseph, had the longest monologue of the night and pulled it off with great aplomb. The girls, meanwhile, more than held their own as they defended Mary's honour. I particularly liked when they simulated breathing-exercises for Mary's imminent labour, a nice touch they added which I hadn't noticed until the big night. I then camped it up as Gabriel. For some reason, early on in rehearsals, Dave and Chris had thought it would be a good idea to play the most mighty of angels in a, to put it politely, camp fashion. I'll never understand their reasoning, but it worked a treat, helping to enliven a great but really quite intense scene. I offered Joseph a biscuit, as you do, persuaded him to believe Mary and off we went for the small matter of witnessing the Incarnation.

Hollyoaks - Joseph doubts Mary. (Photo courtesy of Stephen Kelly)

Early on, we had pinpointed birth as a difficult spectacle to pull off without risking arrest for public indecency. For a while, my idea of having the Archangel Michael carry the infant Christ through the crowd held sway. A sweet idea, I thought. In the end we opted for the much quicker, much more funny yet altogether undignified option of having the infant frame of the saviour of all humanity flung from behind a post and caught by Mary as if she were angling for a spot on the Lions' tour of South Africa.

Before Lorraine and myself finished things off with a rendition of the African-American spiritual 'Poor Little Jesus', the Expositors took their positions to wrap things up and, perhaps, set up the Belfast Mystery Players' next adventure... One of the most exciting and interesting things of this project was the fact it was entirely written, directed and performed by a group of people from lots of different national, cultural and religious backgrounds. Moreover, regardless of our religious origins, we each had varying degrees of faith. Luckily, the event never (I hope) became a dull or too-pious slice of sermonising. Nor did it maliciously mock religious belief, it simply narrated familiar biblical and Christian-mythopoeic narratives with a real sense of humour. However, throughout, I had hoped to ensure, as it's fair to assume the original mystery plays might have done, that the performance also expressed the cultural and theological complexity and sheer weight of what we presented. The figures of the Expositors were perfect for this. Acting as a bridge between the scenes and the audience, they asked questions and answered them. Thus, at the end, Bridget, whose character had previously failed to understand anything she had seen, all of a sudden realised the heartbreaking inevitability that the infant Christ was 'doomed' to suffer and die. In his review, Alan in Belfast picks this turn of phrase out for particular comment, for which I am glad. While, as he highlights, an unconventional choice of words, it sums up what this performance was dramatically leading towards - which is our ambition to produce, at some point in the near future, a life of Christ and/or a Passion narrative. The defining characteristic of this narrative is, as countless literary, dramatic and cinematic interpretations have illustrated, the tension between Christ's humanity and His divinity. For the Son of God, death was not death at all but a destiny, a gift. For the Son of Man, His fate was a death-sentence, a terrifying prospect, it was His doom. This is what our Expositors illustrated. The fact that they did so in front of an inflatable penguin and those questionable sheep did, however, make sure once again it wasn't a sermon.

Take a bow... (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Harden)

And so, after applause, bowing, some words of thanks from me and more applause, we all chatted with our (thankfully) delighted and proud audience, before heading off for the wrap-party. As a group, I think we were all delighted with the night. It progressed with a smoothness we'd never accomplished before, and everyone performed their roles perfectly. Personally, I was thrilled and filled with pride. Despite some changes along the way, we cast each role quite perfectly, and each scene, despite its different tone and vocabulary, came together to form a coherent and enjoyable whole. Brilliant.

Until next year... (Photo courtesy of Kevin Byers)

And so concludes my mini production-diary. In the next post I'll include some more pictures and begin reflecting on the lovely feedback we began receiving in the hours and days after our debut. Until then...


Sunday, 7 June 2009


Well, one week on and the dust has settled from what was a wonderful debut performance by the Belfast Mystery Players. As usual, I must apologise at the start of this post for leaving it as long as a week. Unfortunately, I had two 5,000 word essays to write and hand in last Thursday, so was kept frantically busy after the performance until now doing actual assessed work! Who'd have thought it?

But I am now a man of leisure, and so can begin the long, but hopefully rewarding process of wrapping up 'If I Should Fall From Grace With God', which no doubt will stretch into more posts than this blog has previously hosted, but it should be worth it.

I suppose as good a place as any to begin would be the final, frantic week. Having wrapped up our last regular, weekly rehearsals, we went into the final week with a much busier schedule. As almost everyone on the team was involved with exams/essays etc it proved difficult (and by difficult I mean impossible) to get everyone together at once. As it was, it turned out the performance itself was the first and unfortunately final time we ever had the whole team in the same place at once, scary. Anyway, on Wednesday, at about midday, we gathered at House 4 (our base for the whole project). To keep everyone quite literally sweet I brought sweets and chocolates. We'd done plenty of work inside, so once we eventually got everyone gathered we headed outside. We had, in the first week, rehearsed the Joseph and Mary show outside, but weather prevented us from doing that again. So we began, appropriately enough, at the beginning - in front of the Main Gates at Queen's, with Lorraine's lovely rendition of our 'calling-on-song' 'This is the Truth' (a traditional English song, the lyrics to which I adapted and altered to fit the narrative our play). Then Daisy & Bridget, our hilarious Expositors practiced their comedy double-act, and brought the good souls and the bad through the gates.

The Expositors - a.k.a The Daisy and Bridget Show

Unfortunately, God couldn't be with us that day, so we had to skip The Creation of the Universe and head straight to Eden, where Adam and Eve (Gerard and Lauren respectively) got to hide amongst foliage for the very first time, with myself standing in for God, and Lorraine standing in for her missing-in-action angelic coworker.

Adam (Gerard) awaits his creation - and rather likes it!

Next up was the Fall of Man, which was carried by Lauren's wonderful vocal projection and some superb comic timing from Gerard.

Lucifer (Dave) ponders Eve's (Lauren) attire. Notice the open script on the grass.

Finally, we wrapped up with the well-oiled machine that was the Joseph and Mary show and so concluded our first (almost) complete on-site run through.

The assembled cast and crew watch the Joseph and Mary show.

After a quick lunch break, we headed back outside again and went through everything once again, by which point the thing was really starting to take shape, although anxieties still remained as to whether our poorly Deus would make the big night, and whether we'd get the Creation rehearsed!

Having gone home and watched a bitterly disappointing Champions League final, I decided God couldn't be doubly cruel to me in a week and would smile on the rest of the performance, and so after a much deserved (and frankly, due to exam commitments, needed!) Thursday off, we gathered on Friday evening, at 5, at House 4, for the...dress-rehearsal!

Thankfully, God and everyone else were present. Not so fortunately, we had earlier in the week received the disappointing news that Siobhan, one of our original angels, would have to pull out of the project. As our second angel to pull out, we were left with only one original angel, Ms Deficiens, played by the lovely Rachael. We began to get rather worried, but luckily Lorraine's friend and now fellow-angel Tina stepped in at the last minute for Siobhan, and more than did herself justice on such short notice. Having ironed out all such casting problems, we were good to go. Or so we thought...

Having gotten everyone into our glad-rags and headed outside (including, for the first time, me with my lovely guitar) we set up shop in front of Queen's. We encountered some typically bemused passers-by, but many were interested rather than annoyed. However, it soon became apparent that due to another event being held at Queen's that night, students were frankly, unwelcome. This threatened to put the kibosh on our rehearsing the Creation outside for the first time. It seems there were worries that visiting American journalists wouldn't appreciate seeing rehearsals of a student play (never, students at a university! Doing creative things! The cheek!) However, while waiting in the black and white hall with my wings and guitar I had a chat (and posed for pictures!) with some lovely young Americans - clearly they didn't mind our presence all that much.

Eventually we got the all-clear to proceed, and got the Creation rehearsed. It was far from smooth, due to some fluffed lines and unsure stage-moves all round, but we were cautiously optimistic we'd have time the next day to iron things out. After that, we headed into the quad and had a stressful, but very fruitful run through of the rest of the show. On top of our earlier problems, our rehearsals were unfortunately disturbed by what I must say were some frankly rude passers-by. As a student, I am often irritated and disappointed by criticism in the press and the wider-world of students and their behaviour. However, while some students rather guiltily (but quietly) made their way round our rehearsal, we were on a number of occasions interrupted by (to put it politely) some non-student older members of the public completely disregarding any modicum of politeness by either walking through our rehearsal or plonking themselves right in the middle of where we were staging and having very loud conversations. As 'authentic' as such disturbances might be to a mystery play, they were very disappointing, and on top of the less than warm welcome we received from some parties, once more illustrated the ignorance and unnecessary difficulties students must fight against to enjoy their time at the universities they must unjustly pay for the privilege of attending. While I must say that everyone we approached or who approached us during the course of this project from within university was incredibly enthusiastic and helpful, it is nevertheless a shame there are still elements around who treat students as second-class citizens.

Anyway, off my soapbox for now. Knackering as it was, and although problems still remained, we were hopeful that if the performance on the night was at least as good as the dress rehearsal, it wouldn't be a total disaster. Luckily, our lingering worries were completely unfounded...

Lest this post turn into a 5,000 word essay (I'm kind of in the habit of such things at the mo!) I shall pause there and return tomorrow to narrate D-Day, the performance. After that, expect a roundup of all the lovely reviews we've received both online and off-, and shortly, the gathering of pics and films, and the posting of songs and scripts. On the subject of pics and films, we've already been generously sent pictures and videos from plenty of those in the audience. If anyone reading this has any other pictures or films, regardless of quality, we would love to see them. So, get in touch! We'd be delighted to hear from you via our facebook page or gmail account (both to the left). Until tomorrow then...