Skip to content

The Players Of St Peter

December 3, 2015
by the gentle author

Jenny Williamson as the Virgin Mary

Ever since my stint as the Innkeeper, turning the Holy Family away when they knocked without reading the ‘No Vacancies’ sign, I have been in thrall to the curious literal magic of the ancient Mystery Plays. So you can imagine my delight to discover the Players of St Peter performing at St George-in-the-East, Wapping this week, still carrying the torch for fifteenth century English drama after seventy years.

The Players were originally founded in 1946 in St Peter’s Cornhill in the first week of Advent, as a celebration of the return of Peace at the end of the Second World War, before moving to Holy Trinity, Sloane St in 1988 and then arriving at St-George-in-the-East in 2012. Jock Longstaff supervised most performances during the first twenty-five years, suceeded by Olive Stubbs, a member of the acting company who became director and has overseen every production for the last thirty years.

When Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie & I slipped into the back of the darkened church to watch the dress rehearsal, we were astonished by the glowing Biblical visions that arose before our eyes and even more amazed when a shining Angel drifted up the aisle to deliver us cups of tea and homemade spice cake, from a recipe adopted by the Players years ago and baked annually ever since.

Dazzled by God’s radiance and raptured by the sight of the Virgin Mary, we were puzzled by the presumed invisibility of Mary Magdalene in scenes where the Players appeared to address a presence composed only of thin air – until the friendly Angel bearing tea and cake helpfully explained that, ‘Mary Magdalene can’t be here this evening, she’s doing shift work.’

Robert Hayward as the Holy Lamb of God from the Coventry Shearmen & Taylors’ play

Mike Harding as King Herod and his lackeys from the Coventry Weavers’ play

Steve Brett as Jesus in the York Carpenters’ play

Stephen Wright, Anthony Sullivan & Robert Hayward as the three soldiers at the Crucifixion

Brian David as Almighty God and his Angels, Anthea Wormington & Jackie Withnail

Gill Taylor as Lucifer, the Prince of Darkness from the Chester Tanners’ Play

Olive Stubbs, Director of the Players of St Peter for thirty years in the role of Delight

Herod’s Lackey

Vicky Bettelheim, Judith Elbourne & Deborah Pollard as the three Marys

Pharisee

God in Splendour

The Players of St Peter

Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie

You might also like to take a look at

The Spitalfields Nativity Procession

At the 126th Italian Parade in Clerkenwell

11 Responses leave one →
  1. December 3, 2015

    Wonderful costumes, especially the Lamb of God. ;-)

  2. December 3, 2015

    Great idea, and I love the setting of St George’s. Valerie

  3. December 3, 2015

    There are two performances left of the Mystery Plays.
    Thursday 3rd and Friday 4th Dec at 7.30pm.
    At St George’s in the East Church, Cannon Street Road, Shadwell E1 OBH
    Further details and booking on posp.org.uk

  4. Carol Gilham permalink
    December 3, 2015

    I share your delight in this production of the mystery plays. They have been a regular feature of my life in York. (They were revived in the 50s.) Judi Dench played the Virgin Mary while still a schoolgirl, we have had a black American and a woman playing God, they have been staged in the ruins of St. Mary’s abbey, on wagons, in the Theatre Royal, and in 2000 in the Minster, when our schoolgirl daughter high fived Jesus every other performance for a month. Local people have always been involved in all aspects, and only the main parts are professionals. Greg Doran has directed once, Liz Lochead and Mike Kenny have each written the script and they never lose their freshness and appeal.
    The Players of St. Peter’s look splendid and inspiring in their jewel-like costumes. The photos convey the essence of the experience for them and for the audience. Thank you for this post!

  5. Denise permalink
    December 3, 2015

    That sheep is INSPIRED!!

  6. Ted Weedon permalink
    December 3, 2015

    Having been active in the Players of St Peter since the early 1980s I can confirm that there is as much pleasure in the presenting these plays from the 15th century as our audiences find in seeing them.

    They are a strong reminder of why there is a Christmas celebration – it is not only so that the brewers can do more business! By presenting the plays at the start of Advent we hope that they help even non-Christians think of more than just the non-religious elements of this holiday season.

    Olive Stubbs has presented the same stories in a variety of different ways for the past 30 years and some of our Players have been with her for the whole journey – as have some members of the audience. We would be happy to welcome you into this family.

  7. Gill Taylor permalink
    December 3, 2015

    The Players are also on Twitter (@PlayersStPeter) and Facebook (The-Players-of-St-Peter) so please do like/follow us to keep in touch with what we are doing and be sure not to miss your chance to see or participate in next year’s Plays – new performing or backstage members are always welcome!

  8. Pauline Taylor permalink
    December 3, 2015

    Gorgeous costumes and lovely photographs. It all looks delightful and well done to all those keeping this tradition alive, would that we had something like this where I live!!

  9. Laura Barber permalink
    December 6, 2015

    There are quite a few non-Christians in the cast (and probably the audience) as we are an open and inclusive group. We have had people of many different faiths (and of none) acting with us in the past. If you would like to act with us then we would very much welcome new talent. These productions are the nearest you’ll get to Repertory Theatre (Rep) and is a great training ground for a future acting career. Go to http://www.theplayersofstpeter.org.uk for further details or our FB page. Some of the current cast have had acting training and we are always happy to pass on our knowledge, tips and experience to those new to the art of performing. This could be your opportunity to change direction in life or take up a new creative activity in your spare time. There is no charge for auditions, which happens in some groups, and the membership fee is free for the first year and then a nominal minimal fee thereafter (which covers the costs of refreshments provided at rehearsals). We look forward to welcoming new members and there are some great parts available for committed actors and plenty of opportunities if you just want to take on a small, yet important, role to begin with.

  10. Sonia Murray permalink
    December 9, 2015

    What marvelous fun! I only wish these plays were performed in the U.S. – I’d love to see them. The sheep is wonderful!

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us, Gentle Author! Your articles are always a delight.

  11. Mark JohnEvenett permalink
    April 15, 2016

    Lovely pictures. And, as you probably know, `spitalfields` is short for `hospital fields`, so in as far as they are therapeutic, you are continuing in a healing work there, as well as combining religious, historical and community motifs

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS