The Last Act of the Story – Mysteries for the Modern Age

This began life as MYSTERIES, a set of medieval-style mystery plays written for Hills Road Sixth Form College and commissioned by Richard Fredman, the Head of Drama. Richard wanted to produce a set of mystery plays to mark the Millennium in 2000, but the original text was proving difficult for the students to get to grips with. So I was tasked with producing a new script, based on the medieval original but somehow updating it. I produced scripts for a number of plays, though the students themselves wrote a very funny Shepherds’ Play.  I experimented a bit, and even inserted a scene lifted from DO NOT BE AFRAID (though in fact the contrast in style didn’t really work in performance), but for the most part I wrote in rhyming couplets, in imitation of the style of the original. This worked quite well and was not quite as difficult to write as I had feared. I included various musical numbers and the Woman Taken in Adultery scene was entirely sung: the music was composed by a music student whose name I confess I forget.

However, that was then. Fast forward to 2015 and a meeting of the Radius drama publications committee (on which I sit). I mentioned that I had written some mystery plays back in 2000, but I only had bits and fragments of the original scripts – some had been written on floppy disk (remember those?) and others were only on paper, and in any case, looking at them again I realised they needed a complete overhaul. Radius asked me to have a look at them and then Nickie Cox, who chairs the committee, asked me to write a full suite of ten plays, for her to produce with her group at St George’s Church, Beckenham. So I wrote or re-wrote and produced ten playscripts, from which she selected six for her production, which ran to about an hour.  The plays are written to be performed as one set, linked, like others of my religious dramas, by a doubter and challenger; however, companies can also select particular scripts from within them for production, according to the cast and the time they have to play with.

The plays are mostly written in rhyming couplets, but there are points when the text turns suddenly to prose; the effect of the prose is all the more striking because of the contrast with the verse.

The plays are:

  • Prologue
  • Lucifer
  • The Fall of Man
  • Cain and Abel
  • Abraham and Isaac
  • The Annunciation
  • Herod
  • The Woman Taken in Adultery
  • The Temptation
  • The Crucifixion

As with DO NOT BE AFRAID and PASSION PLAY, the last word goes to the Doubter, who comes eventually to a recognition of the importance of the story but cannot bring himself actually to believe in it. It won’t come as a great surprise to learn that I identify quite strongly with the Doubter, the man who finds Faith both attractive and almost impossibly hard.

The full text of THE LAST SCENE IN THE STORY – MYSTERIES FOR THE MODERN AGE is available from Radius publications.

Scene Tasters


PROLOGUE	If it is true, this tale I tell
	Of God and Man and Heaven and Hell,
	If once upon this earth there trod
	A man who was the Son of God;
	And if we can be certain he
	Was born and grew, like you or me,
	Until he drew his dying breath
	After an agonising death – 
	If all this was as we’ve been told,
	It matters not the story’s old,
	All too familiar, nor that it
	Has flaws or details that don’t fit
	Our own conception of the world,
	Or how its history unfurl’d.
	For no objection, doubt or snare
	Can possibly with this compare:
	A man was born and lived and then
	He died, and then he lived again.
	A life, like ours, born in the womb,
	That should have ended in the tomb,
	His friends, his mother – wept and yearned
	For him in vain; yet he returned.
	No ghost, no dream, no trick of light,
	But real flesh, with speech and sight.

DOUBTER:	This cannot be: it’s too suspect – 
	His friends? What else do you expect?
	When once you die you’re dead, no more:
	We’ve seen it, all of us, before.
	To rise from death?  Pie in the sky – 
	You raise false hope: it is a lie
	By which you hope all folk to fool
	Just so you can divide and rule.
	Religion? It’s hypocrisy – 
	It’s all made up: you don’t fool me.
PROLOGUE	And yet, in spite of all you say
	This story will not go away.


CAIN:	Four sheaves of corn must I now lose?
	Well I shall make damn sure I choose
	The poorest corn within the byre
	If it is going on the fire.
	I grew this corn and reaped it too,
	And I resent this I must do.
	So he can have the ropey corn,
	With scrawny stem and heads all torn.
	For God sent me the rotten grain
	And he can have it back again.
	So let me find the poorest stuff,
	Whose seed is hard, whose husk is tough.
	This sheaf will do, and so will this,
	And these two I will never miss.
	These four I’ll give and not one other;
	And now to join my saintly brother.


ANGEL:	Hail to thee, O full of grace!
	I come to thee here in this place
	To give thee news to fill thy heart
	With joyful hope, for know thou art
	The chosen handmaid of our God
	The purest who on earth has trod.
	And, Mary, he hath chosen thee
	That you might, through virginity,
	Bear God’s own son and bring to birth
	Him who is sent to save the earth.

MARY:	Thy radiance bright and shining face
	Did me afright, God give me grace!
	Thy message fills my heart with awe,
	And yet, in truth I know God’s law
	And cannot see how this can be:
	Must I lose my virginity
	Before my wedding day has dawned?

ANGEL:	Fear not, your child shall not be spawned
	Through any human agency:
	God’s holiness shall enter thee
	And by His spirit shall the child
	Be formed in thee, still undefiled.
	This thing shall pass the wit of men
	Far, far beyond their feeble ken:
	For God almighty is and may
	The rules of nature disobey.

MARY:	If this be so, and you be true,
	Then I accept what I must do.
	I am the handmaid of the Lord
	And live to serve him, as his ward.
	Let everything be done to me
	As you have said that it shall be.

	Only, it wasn’t quite like that.

	(Exit ANGEL.  Enter MOTHER and FATHER.)


MARY:	Mother – 

MOTHER:	Don’t “mother” me.  I’m trying to think.

FATHER:	Never mind thinking.  Who’s the father?  Come on, Mary, 
who’s the father?  Who’s the daddy?  To whom are we indebted for 
our imminent and somewhat premature grandchild?


SATAN:	Jesus, no-one is asking any more of you.  You’ve 
nothing more to prove.  No-one is expecting you to stay out here.  
Be kind to yourself.  Just for once.

JESUS:	What do you mean?

SATAN:	You know what I mean.  Look, Jesus, a small roll isn’t 
going to make any difference, I promise you.  I won’t tell.  
No-one will know.  You need it.  You’ve earned it.  
You deserve it.  And no-one will mind.

JESUS:	A small roll?

SATAN:	It doesn’t even have to be fresh, if you don’t want it 
to be.  It can be a stale crust.

JESUS:	That’s true.

SATAN:	You can do it, can’t you?

JESUS:	Oh yes.  I can do it.

SATAN:	What would you use?

JESUS:	That stone.

SATAN:	This one?

JESUS:	It’s about the right size.

			(SATAN gives him the stone)

SATAN:	Jesus, no-one is stopping you.

JESUS:	I know.

SATAN:	It would be so easy.

JESUS:	That’s the trouble.  It would be too easy.  
(Hands the stone back)


PILATE:  Come, soldier, take this placard here and 
fix it to the cross:
It tells the Jews just who he was and just how great their loss.

SECOND SOLDIER:	I will, sir.  (Reading it) Well, that is a first.  
It seems we’ve nailed a king.
I’d not have guessed - 

CAIAPHAS: I’m not surprised, for you’ve done no such thing.
Great Pilate, you should not have taken this man at his word.
He was no king: you know this, after all you’ve seen and heard.
The most you should have written is that this man claimed to be
The King of Jews and that is why he’s hanging from a tree.

PILATE:	Caiaphas you came to me and begged me for his blood;
And if you didn’t get it, then, said you, there’d be a flood
Of riots and rebellions against our Roman rule:
And so I gave this man to you: perhaps I was a fool.
I found no fault within him, could not see that he’d done wrong.
And so it’s by my hand he dies where he does not belong.
But I’ll give him what justice can be found within a phrase: 
I have written what I’ve written, and what I’ve written stays.