Mitchell’s version of one of Calderon’s mid 17th-century autosacramentales, or secular mystery plays, at the Arcola, is far less exciting than any of the above, but has curiosity value. He prepared this text for the Medieval Players over twenty years ago. The great former Royal Court artistic director, the rightly revered William Gaskill, directs a young cast (and Madhav Sharma as God) in a charming, rather slight, revival.
God is a Director who commands his Stage Manager – the World – to present a show that will celebrate his power. She calls forth six actors in black body stockings daubed in white bones – a skeleton staff, you might say -- to play the representative human figures of Beauty, Peasant, King, Beggar and Rich Man.
Their inevitably comic appearance, pitted with bulges and creases, reminded me of a more full-blooded 1970s Living theatre-style assault on these mysteries by the Spanish director Victor Garcia; his actors romped in the nude around various international festivals and declared their humanity with more defiance, not to say bouncing brio, than is possible here.
Jon Bausor’s colourful school play design hangs papier mache lanterns in the sky, and a floating cradle and grave denoting mankind’s exits and entrances. Adrian Mitchell’s verse is cheerily comprehensible and seems to follow the short, octosyllabic metre of the original.
The characters declare how they play their roles, mediated by the Stage Manager, who summons their costume add-ons and properties along the sort of runner wires once used for the cash register in Victorian haberdasheries, and broken up with songs and the magisterial remarks of the corpulent director.
Sharma, swathed in silks and topped off with a turban, is finally revealed at heaven’s high table and his judgements are not all that surprising, with fine distinctions made between Purgatory and Limbo. Is the eighty-minute play a bit brief? Well, life is short, they say.
Gaskill’s cast is extremely likeable, and they sing Andrew Dickson’s music to Mitchell’s lyrics with flair and conviction. Wunmi Mosaku, a recent RADA graduate, is particularly striking as the Stage Manager, but David Ononokpono as the Rich Man and Ansu Kabia as the King look impressive prospects, too. The more experienced Aoife McMahon is a persuasive, flame-haired Beggar and Candida Benson suitably type-cast as a blonde Beauty.