The Mysteries Review 1998
This Royal Shakespeare Company production originated at The Other Place in Stratford-upon-Avon last year, but they have continued to develop the piece for the London production. It has now been reconceived and is different in both look and style from the original Stratford production. The play is now set in modern dress against the background of the twentieth century.
Lasting over six hours, this is a lengthy production demanding stamina to last to the end. The play commenced at 5pm with an interval at 6.15pm of 15 minutes and a further interval at 8.30pm of 50 minutes, the curtain came down at 11.10pm. I have seen quite a few long plays in the last couple of years that would have worked better in two parts. However, I felt this long production worked and splitting it up would have spoilt the mood and atmosphere.
The story makes you think and tries to give both sides to the argument of whether God is good or bad. Why does God allow such suffering in the world and why does he allow the innocent to suffer for the sins of others? However, it should be noted that at times the story is far from factual with the Bible's account!
It is testament to the acting and directing that the play holds your attention for such great length, particularly when you consider there is no scenery, just a bare stage with the odd prop brought on, such as a table, a few chairs, and a bath. The acting is what gives the play its strength, particularly by David Ryall, who plays God. He plays God in a guileless fashion, which causes a few chuckles. But he also portrays the sadness and torment God suffers as man continues to disappoint him and abandon him.
The biggest problem with the play is that all the actors, bar David Ryall, play a least four different characters, which can be confusing, if you are not paying strict attention. (If you do not know the Bible and you dose off, you will be very confused when you wake up and try to follow the story again!)
Generally I do not like watching plays that have no scenery, and this play is no different. I feel some sets would have given a more satisfying aspect and helped keep the play more interesting. However, the acting compensated for this, but only just!
The production has not been well received by the popular press. JEREMY KINGSTON of THE TIMES is luke-warm about the play describing it as "Big on God, short on argument". NICK CURTIS of THE EVENING STANDARD says that on the road from Stratford to London the play has "Undergone a massive and unwelcome conversion" and goes on to say the play "Seems hasty, ill-conceived and sometimes downright vulgar." BILL HAGERTY of THE NEWS of the WORLD describes The Mysteries as an "Unwieldy but sometimes intensely moving experience."
The Mysteries is a challenging play that has been produced interestingly by the RSC. It is also a play that will challenge you!