The Mysteries, Norwich

JOHN LAWSON Conclusive proof that the story of God circumnavigates his creation and blows away cultural, ethnic and geographical boundaries was to be found in this high energy theatrical celebration.

JOHN LAWSON

Conclusive proof that the story of God circumnavigates his creation and blows away cultural, ethnic and geographical boundaries was to be found in this high energy theatrical celebration.

Certainly, The Mysteries followed the well-known pattern of the Bible as Christians perceive it – inspired as it was by the Chester Mystery Plays performed in that most English of cities since medieval times.

Yet such was the passion, the exuberance, the joy exuded by this quite remarkable South African company that it could just as easily have been applied to the Koran, the teachings of Bhuddism or the Torah and Talmud of Judaism.

Its seamless mixture of the four main languages of the Cape served to reiterate the Everyman view of religion – the way to steer the path of good over evil, touching lives positively along the way.

And this was a religious celebration in its purest form – the type of worship that could have been celebrated 5000, 2000, 200 years ago.

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On the simplest of sets, scaffolding surrounding a raked wooden stage, the company used what nature had given them – a quite remarkable set of voices, spine-tingling music, those emotive languages, and – in a modern concession to durability – oil drums, steel pipes and sheets of metal in place of the trees and plants from which the first instruments would have been made.

But amplification was their none but the richness of the voices rang around the walls and, for all I know, carried halfway to Heaven.

There were some wonderful surprises: the birth of Adam from a sandy grave beneath the stage, and the fiery incarnation of hell among them, the creation of the Ark from nothing more than a piece of fencing trellis.

But it was the feeling of sheer sponteneity that swept you up and carried you right along with it.

The musical numbers were as culturally diverse as the language, from the Latin of Gaudete, through You Are My Sunshine, to the irresis-table rhythms of the African plains.

They perfectly complemented the action, and the spine-tingling plainsong which accompanied the crucifixion will remain with me for a very long time.

The cast was led from the front by the charismatic Vumile Normanyama as God/Jesus and Andries Mbali as his nemesis Lucifer.

Special mention, too, for Sibusiso Ziqubu as Noah and Ruby Mthethwa as Mary Magdalene, but this was the definitive ensemble performance stunningly orchestrated by creator- director Mark Dornford-May.

t The Mysteries continues at the Theatre Royal until Saturday January 25. Box office: 01603 630000.

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