As Associate Director, Becky Hope-Palmer is director Phillip Breen’s number two – a second pair of eyes and a creative sounding board for his ideas and vision for the monumental production which will take place in the Minster this summer. For the past few weeks, she has been temporarily leading weekday rehearsals – working with the community cast of around 200 performers to drill key scenes while Phillip is away preparing for the opening of Cyrano de Bergerac at the Clwyd Theatre, Wales, in April.
“It’s unlike anything I’ve ever done before in my life,” Becky explains. “There are obviously lots of things I can translate from previous assistant director roles, but the sheer scale of it requires me to be a lot more technically minded. For example, I’ve never had to think about costume changes before or the capabilities of cast members, but with such a huge community cast these are things you need to take into account. It’s like a game of chess – you’re constantly having to be 10 steps ahead of everything in a way that’s very new to me.”
Becky, who is originally from Edinburgh, graduated from the University of Bedfordshire with an Honours degree in Media Performance before starting her career in directing. She went on train at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow, and in 2012 founded her own theatre company – Thrive Theatre – which has staged three productions at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival over the last four years. Most recently, Becky has worked as Trainee Director at the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh, before being approached by Phillip Breen last autumn to be part of the Mystery Plays.
“I’ve never worked with a community theatre before. In Edinburgh it’s not something that happens which is a great shame and I hope it changes – I’ve always felt it’s something integral to the future of theatre everywhere and this project has convinced me I should do more of it,” Becky explained.
“The cast we have for the Mystery Plays are fantastic - they’re willing to give up their time and resource for the love of it, which is quite a rare thing. Everything is so fast these days that to take the time out to be part of something like this must be really important to and special for them. That in itself is a reason to keep going and know it will be worth it.
“In the rehearsal room you see how well people are doing and how amazing they are. Like any role it comes with its challenges but its mind blowing how lovely they are and how talented.”
As well as assisting with directing, Becky forms the link between the costume, design and stage management teams, filtering information between Phillip and the creative team who are making the hundreds of costumes, props and scenery which will create this summer’s breath-taking spectacle. An army of backstage volunteers are busy measuring, sewing, painting and building pieces for an array of jaw-dropping scenes planned for the production, but as Becky explains, the simple moments in the performances will be just as breath-taking and poignant.
“We had a moment last night where we were rehearsing the birth of Christ. We’re planning to do it quite simply – the angels collect around the Manger and when they disperse Mary is there with baby Jesus. Mary and Joseph sing a lullaby and the Angel Gabriel watches on with signs of impending magnificence. So it’s very simple, but it really took my breath away and made me think ‘wow’. To see the seedling of it there and know it will be performed in front of 1,000 people in the setting of the Minster, with all the other elements – it’s going to be amazing.
“It makes you remember we’re doing it in a church – to make it that simple, that moment which was the start of thousands of years of Christianity, that put everything into a nutshell for me. I hope people who come to see it think, ‘that’s why we’re all here to see this’. ‘That’s why the Minster is here’. Because of this one moment in the Bible that’s been continuously retold over time.”
The Mystery Plays open on Thursday 26 May and run for five weeks of performances to Thursday 30 June. To buy tickets, click here