November: Cultural Events in Durham

All the biggest and best cultural events this November in and around Durham.

Whilst it might be a while until we see the same kind of city-wide theatrical performances that we witnessed with the Durham Mysteries, there are still loads of great cultural events left to come in 2017.

Places of Pilgrimage – An Exhibition of the Artwork of Ian Scott Massie

Yorkshire based artist Ian Scott Massie has been a professional artist since he was a student back in the 1970s. His landscape works are considered to be a continuation of the British Romantic School of the 1930s whilst he’s also carved out a successful career as a folk musician. His current exhibition focuses on holy places and attempts to frame these buildings, such as Durham Cathedral, within the context of their towns.

Where? The Undercroft Restaurant, Durham Cathedral

When? 1 November – 22 Nov 2017

Lumiere Durham

Produced by leading arts charity, Artichoke, Lumiere is a light festival that transforms cities into living, breathing art spaces. This is the fifth time that the festival has come to Durham and it promises to be the most popular one yet, with a brand new slew of international artists bringing their original artworks to the city. The last Lumiere festival brought 200,00 visitors to Durham – here’s hoping this year’s is an even bigger success.

Where? See for more info

When? 16 November – 19 November 2017

Making a Joyful Noise

This exhibition explores the deep historical connection that Durham has with music – charting the city’s journey with music from the earliest records of monks in the cathedral right the way up to the 21st Century. Original manuscripts and some of the earliest-printed books will be on display showing us just how far music has come. There’ll also be historical instruments on display. Tickets are cheap at only £2.50 for kids and £7.50 for adults.

Where? Durham Cathedral

When? 19 September – 19 November 2017

Raising the Bar: Durham’s Theatre Festivals & Societies

Durham has a rich and diverse heritage with Theatre and the Performing Arts stretching back for centuries.

But, in a world of television streaming and instant gratification, do ordinary people still have the enthusiasm to watch theatre, let alone rehearse and perform it?

Although the rest of the country may well be under the spell of YouTube videos and On Demand television, the people of Durham are still very much lovers of the stage. This passion for the theatre is reflected in a number of amateur and professional establishments which have been successfully operating throughout the city for decades.

You don’t need to go far or wait long for a dose of culture in Durham, as a string of well-run venues constantly compete to put on the most successful shows, which regularly sell-out. In addition to these productions, there are a number of award-winning festivals that draw in thousands to the city across the space of the year.

The University stronghold is arguably the stronghold of this vibrant performing community.

With nearly 30 different companies operating inside the framework of Durham Student Theatre, there are over 700 members performing, writing and producing dramatic productions throughout the course of the year. At the beginning on of the academic year, each society can be seen marketing on college campuses around the city, hoping to win the best performers for their productions. The oldest of these societies, with a history stretching back over 60 years, is the Durham University Light Opera Group.

DULOG performs four full shows each year, including a stint at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as well as a run at Durham’s own Gala Theatre. But it’s not all about opera, the Durham Drama Festival gives the other societies a chance to flex their performing muscles. During February, nine original productions are staged by amateur performers from the university. These plays are written by students and produced by their societies, with many of them going on to achieve success at the National Student Drama Festival. At this year’s award, students Harvey Comerford and Annie Davison took home their respective awards for Most Promising Actor and Actress.

It’s not just the students who put the hours in to retain Durham’s reputation as a performing city though.

The Durham Dramatic Society is an amateur dramatic group that has been operating for close to 100 years. Performing their shows in a 71-capacity theatre in the heart of Durham’s city centre, they have built up a solid reputation for performing up to five shows in a given year, often selling out their venue for an entire week’s run.

Finally, a lynch pin in Durham’s cultural calendar, the Durham Festival of Arts brings together the very best of amateur and professional productions for the hungry masses of the city. Running from the 2nd to the 23rd June, this year’s festival is promising to be the biggest one yet. Durham Student Theatre are co-organising the festival with Music Durham, bringing a programme that is packed with activities. University lecturers will be presenting writing workshops and Dramatic societies will be performing original productions, from full blown West-End style productions to faithful recreations of comedy classics, such as Blackadder III.

Many of these performances take place in the open-air, making Durham an ideal destination to visit during June. Book your tickets today to get in on the excitement!

Durham News: Airport Development & Theatre Update

Many people assume that not much really happens in our sleepy city of Durham.

Historically, this place was probably much more populous in the past.

Back in the town’s heyday (as in 30 years ago) the River Wear, that runs through the town, brought a steady stream of goods and people that would have galvanised the town’s then booming economy.

Today however, it is a completely different story. It’s been a while since any boat has passed through the Wear bearing goods for sale or passengers eager to disembark in our fair town. No travelling merchants hawking their materials roam the streets and you’d be hard pressed to find a band of touring players that didn’t arrive via coach or plane.

Thankfully, as the times have moved on, so has Durham. This city is constantly undergoing changes and updates, ensuring it’s reputation as a modern, culturally relevant city is safe for the foreseeable future. This is a city that is unafraid to invest in itself and not averse to taking financial risks if it means the continued success of Durham and it’s people.

Most recently, new redevelopment work has been completed on Durham’s Gala Theatre.

Already the city’s premier destination for theatre and live music, the Gala reopened it’s doors in the Autumn with an additional 2 screens, bringing it’s total to 4, allowing the Gala to offer twice the variety for its patrons. The recent development was primarily funded by Picturehouse who also saw fit to add a brand new restaurant, concession area and box office.

This is just one of many new developments in the Durham area that has seen the city undergo a striking cultural regeneration which has brought more people and assets into the area. A little further outside of the main city, change is also brewing at Durham Tees Valley Airport.

The airport has come under fire in the last few years for a variety of reasons. On top of the consistent complaints of locals due to noise pollution, there have also been a growing number of angry voices insisting that the destinations that the airport now flies out to are no longer relevant to the people living in the local area. Peel Airports Ltd., owners of Durham Tees Valley Airport, have unveiled a development plan for the area immediately next to their airport, which handles the travel plans for around 160,000 people each year.

Although airport parking at Durham might has already been heavily invested in, there are no plans to build around 350 new homes just metres away from the main terminal.

These plans were recently approved by the council, although the councillors were split 4-4 on this decision. In addition to the swathe of new people that this will bring into the area, plans are also in place to create a retail space and community facilities, such as a dentist’s practice and a health centre.

There have already been some protests against this plan. Understandably, Peel have attempted to ease the minds of those that are a little perturbed at new construction occurring so close to the airport, insisting that all of the money that is made from the homes will be pumped back into the airport.

Let’s hope the work is completed quickly so that we can welcome even more visitor’s and residents to our city!

Fashion and Religion in the 11th Century

In a world, ruled by social media and advertisement, it could be easy to assume that the current world of fashion and clothing has never been so widespread and homogenised.

With new looks and trends permeating through the internet, into the minds of the consumers, the connection between fashion and commercialism has never been closer.From the jaw-dropping exhibitions of the New York and Paris catwalks, to the flocks of people crowding Primark’s 325 locations – it would appear that people have never been more enthralled with fashion and clothes shopping.

french-fashion-middle-ages1The average British woman spends around £600 a year on clothes, with men spending half of that. We spend even more on children’s clothes, around £764 per year.Our clothing habits today are ruled by immediacy and trends.

Thanks to online shopping we can now sit at home and order in anything from kids designer clothes in Liverpool to hand-crafted authentic kimonos from Tokyo. With just a few clicks we can spend a couple of hundred pounds, equivalent to an 11th century lifetime’s earning and discard the garment with a few weeks.

Just like today, buying clothes in the 11th Century was an expensive habit – more so in fact. Clothes were an expensive commodity, just like today, sellers and makers would hawk their wares for a great deal of money. Unlike today, your average consumer would only be able to afford one or two changes of clothes. So, even though their options were varied, they could make a very limited amount of choices with their restricted

The fashion choices that the average Middle-Age person made would be largely dependant on the individual’s wealth and their social status. Of course, they didn’t have Amazon back then, they didn’t even have shops as we know them. 11th Century society’s clothing was supplied by a myriad of niche businesses, specialising in one particular piece of clothing at a time.

These businesses, small as they were, would depend on the annual performance of the mystery plays to promote their wares and put them in favour with the Church. Sponsoring individual carts, hosting specific Mystery Plays, the local craft guilds would usually have some thematic link with the content of the play – some more spurious than others, for example:

Tailors – Ascension

mdievalThis strange connection between clothes tailoring and the Ascension of Christ is a little hard to piece together. At the time, tailors were a business in demand. There were no standard sizes. Unless you knew how to sow, you’d have to bring your textiles from the drapers and get them turned into custom fitted clothes. As such, they had a big sway over the Church, resulting them in scoring the most bombastic cart.

Jesus’ triumphant ascension is the ultimate tale in the Life of Jesus and would have attracted many interested viewers – acting as a nice form advertisement for their tailoring.

Cordwainers (or Shoemakers) – Agony, Betrayal and Arrest

Similarly, its hard to see the thematic link between such a crucial portion of the Jesus story and this particular story. The Agony, Betrayal and Arrest of Christ are all pivotal moments of the Passion that occur between the final moments of the Last Supper and Christ’s eventual trial at the hand of the Romans.

Once more, this is certainly one of the more dramatically rich mystery plays to perform and would have been the subject of much scrutiny, giving the Guild of Cordwainers a good chance to show off their shoes.

Hosiers–Departure of the Israelites from Egypt; Ten Plagues; Crossing the Red Sea

fashionIt’s hard to imagine how just a handful of actors in the 11th Century managed to depict not one, not two, but three major Biblical Events in back of a simple horse-drawn cart.

Even though it might be hard to picture, it was certainly the case and the Hosiers were chosen to sponsor this particular cart because of their historical affiliations with the Ancient Egyptians. Although there are very little historical records proving this, it’s an urban myth that has persisted to this present day.

Glovers—Sacrifices of Cain and Abel

cain-and-abelLastly, the makers of gloves – an item most useful to people of the middle-ages due to the freezing temperatures that they had to endure during those times. Another cart that would have drawn quite the crowd, the theological reasoning behind this particular lesson from God is a curious one.

Cain kills his brother (we can assume with his own hands, hence the gloves) because of his envy over God’s greater love for Abel’s lambs rather than his farmed goods. He is, of course, punished for this crime by the omniscient God who is confused by his envy:

‘Why are you furious? And why are you downcast? If you do right, won’t you be accepted? But if you do not do right, sin is crouching at the door.’

So, apparently, Cain didn’t do right by providing food from the land for God, and should have just been a sheep farmer instead. A little confusing – but I’m sure there’s a message in there somewhere.

Although some of these links were harder to detect than others, it’s interesting to note the correlation between the Church, Religion and Commerce. The interconnectedness of these three things might seem a little trite, but it’s hard to deny the logic.

In order to sell more of their wares, each small business had to promote their brand as much as they could – what better way to do this than a moving stage, circling the city all day in front of hundreds of people?

Congratulations Lincoln Mystery Plays!

Another successful season ends for Lincoln Mystery Plays.

Our southern compatriots have been periodically performing their adapted versions of the N-Town Plays for the last four decades, drawing in hundreds of local performers of all ages and backgrounds.

lincoln-posterTheir most recent series of productions came to an end in August and we’ve heard nothing but good things about them. Performed in the cloisters of the city’s grand cathedral, for this year’s cycle of shows, director Colin Brimblecombe selected 17 of the whopping 42 possible plays in the Hegge Cycle. Nearly a hundred years younger than the York Mystery Plays that we performed in 2010, the Hegge Cycle is recognisable for it’s regular rhyme, short lines and use of alliteration.

Lincoln’s a fine town for the performance of these plays. Thanks to the regular performance of these shows (every 4 years, different plays hit the streets) the public has grown receptive to this mid-summer. Over the course of 8 days, the hundred strong cast of performers of all faiths and religions take to the streets and lead the audience into the Cathedral where the majority of the plays are performed.

lincoln-jesusWith a considerable amount of cross over between the Old and New Testament Bible Stories, some performers are required to learn considerably more lines than others.

Henry Deighton, who played the antagonistic role of Satan/Lucifer performed in over half of the plays, providing those plays with a spiteful yet enigmatic villain for the audience to root against. Charlie Seeley had the unenviable task of playing Jesus in a similar amount of plays, whilst Dominic Freeston had, arguably, the biggest challenge of all, portraying God in 12 of the 17 plays.

With a huge Production team working from behind the scenes, the cast was ably supported throughout the two weeks of performing the plays allowing them to perform to the best of their abilities; giving the people of Lincoln yet another evening of entertainment to cherish for years to come.

Congratulations on another successful production, Lincoln Mystery Plays!

Big Ideas For The Next Cycle

Who’s got some ideas for the next cycle of Mystery Plays?

We’ve yet to secure funding for the production of any more Mystery Plays, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t get some ideas rolling on what we could do. With the fantastic Lincoln Mystery Plays coming to an end a month or so ago, we’re brimming with ideas and possibilities of what we’d do if we won funding tomorrow.

Arts funding at this time is notoriously hard to come by, combined with the fact that Political support for projects has moved away from Religious works to more Secular pieces. Still, there’s no reason that we can’t live in hope and continue to apply for funding. In the mean time, thinking costs nothing and there’s nothing more exciting than making a wildly extravagant plan with absolutely no hope of it reaching fruition.

After a brief brainstorming session with the rest of the gang, I’ve collected 4 of the best/wackiest ideas of how we could bring back the Durham Mystery Cycles bigger and better than ever:

More People

Something that all the best Biblical Epics of the golden age of cinema had in common was an unbelievably huge amount of extras. Although we’ve done well in the past to get as many people together as we have, it would be great to attract even more to join the show.


Filling out our cast with a wider array of demographics should help lend more credibility to our production. Imagine double the amount of people crowding the stage with a huge variety in ages, race and gender. To bring more people into our production would be the easiest, cheapest way to raise the production values of our show.

Historically Accurate Attire

Along with more people, we’d also need to invest in more costumes. Of course, if we do somehow secure funding, we’d want to reuse the costumes we used in the last cycle. However, in an ideal world, we would be able to dress our significantly larger cast in a completely new wardrobe.


A brand new production would require new costumes, and it would be fantastic to be able to invest in traditional, historically accurate costume. To provide the people of Durham with a truly authentic Mystery Play experience would be wonderful, and not something our audience would forget in a hurry.


Although there are strict rules in place when it comes to the use of animals in entertainment situations (just take a look at the difficulty that the makers of the new Harry Potter play ran into recently) there’s no reason why we can’t shoot for the stars by enlisting some furry friends to help us set the scene.


The old adage goes, ‘never work with animals or children’. Well we’ve managed to handle dozens of children in a live theatrical setting before, why not go one step further and get some lives in mix? A donkey to ride our Jesus through the gates of Jerusalem, sheep to tend to our manger in the nativity scene – perhaps even a live snake for the Fall of Man?

Ice Sculptures

This is a much more off the wall idea, suggested by one of our more enthusiastic volunteers. The idea of one mystery play being represented as an intensely detailed ice sculpture is one that we can’t stop thinking about. Of course there would be an inherent challenge in presenting a piece of theatre as a tableau, but this could be easily stepped around.


Many of the stories in the York Cycles of plays draw from incredibly iconic moments in the Bible. The Creation of Man, Building of the Ark and Sacrifice of Cain and Able are all stories that could be told within a single frame. As to who would create such a thing, a colleague has been raving about Glacial Art’s ice sculptures for months now, it might be worth giving them a call.

There’s still no word on whether we’ll be able to go ahead with another set of plays, but for now these ideas are more than enough to keep us excited.


6 Epic Mystery Plays That Need Adaptation

We’ve had a whale of a time adapting our choice of 10 of the York Mystery Plays, but as you may know, there are 38 more of them still left to go! Now, we’ve not got the go ahead to start production on any more. But if we were to get hold of some more funding, then these would be the first 6 that we’d choose adapt.

Judgement Day

judgment-dayIn the 14th Century, people had to be kept in fear of God and this was the classic story that would deter them from committing the sins that would have eroded the social fabric of he Middle Ages. What better way to keep the serfs in line than threatening the punishment of eternal damnation?

Of course, the purpose of the Mystery Plays were not to scare the living Christ out of the audience, but to provide them with a gaudy distraction for a day – so there’s a good chance that the Medieval players would have kept the tone light for this particular play. What could be more theatrical than the end times?

Mortification of Christ

mortificiationOne of the most tragic scenes of Jesus’ story, his mortification and eventual burial are told through 4 separate accounts, from 4 different disciples.

Although modern scholars disagree on the most likely turn out of events, it’s likely that the writers of the Mystery Plays settled on using Mark’s Gospel over the other stories due to the detail it provides in terms of burial rites and action.

Rather worryingly, the Craft Guild of the Butchers were charged with the funding of this particular cart – one can just imagine what kind of special effects work they contributed to the Mortification. We’d probably tone down the gore, but there would be no need to underplay the drama at stake here.

Baptism of Jesus

jesu5Considered to be one of the 5 major moments in Christ’s story, Jesus’ baptism is seen by many as the beginning of the Ministry of Jesus. It is the sacred act of baptism, which Gospel writer John performs, that induces a ‘holy spirit’ to descend from the sky ‘like a dove’. This miraculous appearance signals Jesus’ importance and inspires the first two disciples to join the cause.

Besides from being one of the most important events in Christianity, the Baptism of Jesus is packed full of great symbols and moments. The only issue would be finding a way to fully realise a running river on stage – we always love a challenge, though!

Triumphal Entry Into Jerusalem

A classic part of the Easter story, Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, on the back of a donkey, is one of the most iconic sections of his tale. It represents the unabashed love and respect that he was lavished with, by the inhabitants of a city who had to see him in the flesh yet.


Another story that would translate perfectly to the stage, dozens of supporting players could be used for this scene, emphasizing the joy and enthusiasm that greets Jesus upon his entrance. We’re yet to have secured the necessary documents to provide an actual donkey for this conceptual production, but I’m sure we can sort something out with the local pantomime company – sometimes the old ways are the best.

Last Supper

The Last Supper has become one of the most iconic scenes in the Easter Story. Whether it’s due to Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting or the role it played in the best-selling book The Da Vinci Code, it’s hard to deny that it makes for wonderful theatre.


Traditionally the Bakers Guild would sponsor this play – which makes sense, considering the Communion that takes place. It’s the ritual of communion, Jesus’ predictions of the betrayals to come and the nature of this foreshadowing that make this a riveting piece of drama – perfect for the stage. Taking inspiration from da Vinci and staging this scene as an homage to the painting would be a great way to instantly familiarise the audience with the drama at hand.

Massacre of the Innocents

massareThe bawdy Middle-Age audiences loved nothing more than a bit of violence or raunchiness. This story is devoid of that latter but has the former in abundance. For a long time, as is the case with many Bible stories, the story of the mass killing of children under the age of two was seen as gospel. However, biblical scholars (especially biographers of Herod himself) have disputed the historic nature of this abhorrent crime.

Although this may seem like dark territory to stumble into for a fun night out at the theatre, the Massacre of the Innocents would provide the evening with some tonal variation. We visualise setting the scene in a modern day war zone.

After all it’s not so  hard to believe something like this happening in this day and age.