Confirming South Africa's growing reputation as a home for enormously energetic and vibrant musical theatre, The Mysteries sees 40 performers engage in an African retelling of the medieval Mytsery plays that present Biblical stories from the Creation through the Crucifixion to the Resurrection and beyond.
Mystery plays were the beginnings of the Western theatrical tradition, at a time (the Middle Ages) when the Greek and Roman dramatic legacy was known to only a tiny percentage of the population. Mystery plays were the only acceptable form of acting to the Church authorities, who dominated cultural life, but in due course the modern idea of plays, divorced from any religious story-telling, emerged from the long tradition of Mystery performances and developed into Western theatre.
The fact that The Mysteries gives an African interpretation of the Bible stories — and includes songs and dance as well as a very African vitality and commitment — has given this show a radical new approach that appeals to a wide range of people, making it accessible and enjoyable to a West End audience that would not normally go to see a "straightforward" evening of Biblical stories.
As a result, The Mysteries has been one of the hits of this winter, and is now running until May 18. Conceived and created by Mark Dornford-May and Charles Hazlewood, it is directed by Dornford May and choreographed by Joel Mthethwa. Instruments used in the show are "found objects," mostly from scrapyards, and the performers sing and speak in their mother tongues, mainly English, Afrikaans, Xhosa and Zulu.
—By Paul Webb Theatrenow