For the last two months, I have had the privilege of being consumed by a hugely ambitious project that unexpectedly ended up encapsulating everything that is right about living in this remarkable city. The Sheffield Mysteries took the medieval tradition of re-enacting stories from the Bible and transformed them into a series of contemporary vignettes. The creative team, led by the inimitable Daniel Evans, seized upon Chris Bush’ acerbic, uproarious script before successfully realising a multi-sensory vision of epic proportions.
My journey began in the rehearsal room of the Crucible as hundreds of hopefuls gathered over a series of open auditions, their numbers swelled by the critical acclaim that last year’s Sheffield People’s Theatre production had attracted. Having not set foot near a stage in around 20 years, it was the first of many experiences to come that would see my usually liberal comfort zone considerably stretched.
Surprisingly, I was actually given a part, cast as Joseph, a naïve Moor market trader, upset and confused at his girlfriend, Mary (from Parson Cross – “he will be when he sees what you’ve been up to!”) and the news that she was pregnant, despite questions about poor old Joey’s virility. Cue a surreal, dream-like sequence involving scantily clad nightclub dancers, a fortune teller and a towering, sardonic drag queen. Other memorable scenes depicted equally whimsical notions, underpinned by a constant critical narrative. Having worked largely in isolation on individual scenes during the intense rehearsal process, genuine angst emerged amongst the cast about how such a prodigious undertaking could possibly be implemented, not least due to the logistical nightmare of constantly corralling such a vast amount of people.
Fast forward a number of weeks, and I’m facing a standing ovation on the Crucible’s main stage with my 90 fellow performers, each struggling to contain palpable emotions of gut-bursting pride and exhausted, tearful relief.
Just like the plethora of characters played within The Sheffield Mysteries, we wrestled with our inner demons and embraced our diversity before uniting in a visceral display of collective, life-affirming strength. The heart and soul of the Mysteries was found within its ability to highlight a rudimentary but profound truth. It is this powerful force that has to be harnessed if we are to survive in today’s current political and social climate.Wayne Hoyle