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Page last updated at 15:54 GMT, Tuesday, 25 May 2010 16:54 UK
A contemporary revival for Durham's Mystery Plays
The Nativity by Durham Mysteries 2010
The Nativity - mystery plays were popular with the illiterate masses

From The Creation to the Fall of Lucifer, the new Durham Mysteries are a reworking of bible stories for a modern audience.

They are a series of short pieces performed in collections or cycles based on the original mystery play tradition.

Some still performed today are drawn from original scripts.

But, unlike York, Chester and Wakefield, there is little left of the plays once staged in Durham Cathedral.

They've been specially written by 10 writers from across the country, including the North East author David Almond, probably most famous for his award winning children's novel, Skellig.

Playing God

There were ten plays in the 2010 cycle, reworking bible stories from the creation to the fall of the devil, via Adam and Eve, the flood, Cain and Able, the crucifixion and the miracle of Lazarus.

One local actor - Simon James, a lecturer at Durham University - had the responsibility of playing God in God's Day Off, a musical comedy written in rhyming verse.

Simon said: "There are different Gods in different plays and Ian McMillan's one in God's Day Off is really interesting.

"It's as if He's a God who thinks He is omniscient and omnipotent but who finds out He isn't because He gave humanity free will."

Simon wasn't the only one to feel it an honour to be part of such a "distinguished tradition" of storytelling.

David Almond, who wrote Noah and the Fludd, said: "It was wonderful to feel that I was playing part in a tradition that had such a powerful history.

The Flood by Durham Mysteries 2010
David Almond said it was "dead right" to set Noah and the Fludd in the region

"It was wonderful to have God as a character, to have him talking to ordinary folk, to have a local setting and a huge universal theme."

The Penshaw ark

The new Durham Mysteries don't just revive an ancient tradition of telling and re-telling biblical stories.

They set them firmly in the north-east of England.

Noah and the Fludd, for example, has giraffes in Birtley and the ark perched on Penshaw Monument.

David Almond said it felt "dead right" to do it like this: "This isn't some a kind of parochial/inward-looking Geordiness.

"It stresses the fact that the great mythic stories, like Noah, grow out of real people in real places, that they are rooted in common experience."

Acting al fresco

The Mysteries have been performed at various locations across Durham City including the Cathedral, the Gala Theatre and The Sands.

Acting outside as well as in, then. But, says Simon James, here the modern performer has an edge over his or her medieval counterpart.

It was part of what made it unique, he said before the May performances: "This stage exists only for this week, just for the Mysteries, so it will be such a unique experience for the cast and the audience.

"We have a fabulous technical crew to help us deal with the technical issues - there will be amplified sound and TV screens, so we have more help for acting outside than actors did in medieval times."

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