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The Oxford Mystery Plays

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Saturday, July 29, 2017 -
5:00pm to 9:00pm
University Church, High Street, Oxford, OX1 4BJ


The University Church are hosting 'The Oxford Mystery Plays'. A staged reading of ‘modern medieval’ drama written by local groups

Oxford, UK, 29th July 2017: Today sees the culmination of a year’s collaboration between local Oxford groups in creating a modern mystery cycle.

The York Plays, sometimes called the York Mystery Cycle, is a collection of short biblical plays which were performed once a year on Corpus Christi day on the streets of medieval York. These plays spanned the entirety of biblical history from Creation to Doomsday, and the performances aimed to be both entertaining and devotional experiences. (Audience members are encouraged to laugh when Noah’s wife stubbornly refuses to get on the Ark, for example, but are sobered by Christ’s powerful speech from the cross.) The stories in the plays were often particularly relevant for the groups performing them: the Shipwrights staged the Building of the Ark, the Bakers the Last Supper.

Sian Witherden (DPhil English, Balliol) and Penny Boxall (Education Officer, University Church) with the support of TORCH (the Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities), have orchestrated the updating of 8 key plays from the York Mystery Cycle. The plays have been written by members of particular groups, standing in for the guilds of medieval York.

The plays will be presented in a staged reading on Saturday 29th July, performed by members of the local groups.

The new mystery plays are as follows:

The Creation of Adam and Eve, the Fall, and the Expulsion from the Garden of Eden – Bodleian Library Staff

Noah’s Ark and The Flood – The Oxford Girls’ Waterpolo Team

The Nativity – Frideswide Voices Girls’ Choir

The Last Supper – Oxford University Postgraduate Medievalists

The Betrayal in the Garden – Oxford City Council

The Crucifixion and the Resurrection – St Mary’s Church

Doubting Thomas – Oxford Brookes Creative Writing MA

Doomsday – Thames Valley Police

Sian Witherden, who is completing a PhD on medieval biblical drama, said the following: “This project represents an exciting collaboration between the university and local groups. Our hope is that the performance on the 29th of July will bring together the Oxford community and show how medieval drama is still relevant, accessible, and entertaining for a modern audience.”

Penny Boxall added, “We are very excited to present this showcase of local Oxford talent – the resulting plays are inventive, funny and moving, bringing together a patchwork of voices from across the city.”

The timetable for the day will be:

5pm: ‘Pop-up’ readings of selected extracts in Radcliffe Square

5.45pm: Symposium, 'Engaging Modern Audiences with Medieval Plays' - Old Library (above the Vaults and Garden Cafe)

Speakers: Co-Producer, Sian Witherden; Director, Laurence Goodwin; Liv Robinson, Senior Research Fellow, University of Fribourg

7.30pm: Staged reading of new plays in their entirety (free but ticketed) - University Church

Free tickets for the 7.30pm performance can be booked online at Eventbrite. Click here to register.


Penny Boxall

Heritage Education and Volunteers Officer

University Church of St Mary the Virgin

High Street



01865 279111

Contact name: 
Penny Boxall
Open to all