12:00pm Friday 4th July 2003
RIDING Lights continue their summer studies of hypocrisy with the second show of the season, the comic mysteries of Dario Fo's Mistero Buffo, at Friargate Theatre, York, next week.
Following in the wake of Sir Henry Howarth Bashford's Augustus Carp Esq by Himself, Fo's balloon-bursting satire portrays the ribald antics of the jongleur, the wise fool of medieval times, who would come to town with a dangerous gospel.
At a time when the future of the York Mystery Plays is shrouded in uncertainty, here is Fo's variation on such plays, given a modern Communist twist by the Italian political playwright and performer, who first staged Mistero Buffo as a solo piece in 1969.
Director Paul Burbridge could not resist the spiky, savage comedy of Fo's work. "Buffo slips the cork from a thrillingly raucous old bladder full of stories that explode with love of humanity and rant against oppression, his grin going all the way to Calvary and back," he says.
"After seeing a revival of Accidental Death Of An Anarchist in London, I was thinking about the possibility of doing a Fo play, so out of curiosity I drove all the way up to St Andrews to see this Scottish actor form the Borderline Company doing Mistero Buffo, and it was a wonderful piece."
Fo had developed the play - a series of episodes in the manner of Mystery Plays - over 15 to 20 years when researching the life of jongleurs, itinerant street entertainers.
"He came out of that stable himself as a solo performer, and you can see the similarities. The jongleurs were descendants of the great medieval buffoons who scratched at the conscience of Europe, delighting the crowds and infuriating the powerful," says Paul.
"With Mistero Buffo, Fo saw the opportunity for the dramatic storyteller to be revolutionary, socially sharp, critical of the authority of the medieval church and the subsequent centuries of church governors. At the same time, at the heart of the stories, he found something that goes back to the thrust of Christ's message in the gospels: attacking all of the hypocrisies that have accreted themselves to the Christian faith."
In this production, Paul uses a cast of four - all but Mark Payton from the Augustus Carp Esq company - to relate ten sequences from Mistero Buffo.
"The stories always have a perspective off being slightly off centre, bringing to life characters who are off the main biblical story," Paul says. "You feel constantly that Fo is knocking off the dust and using comedy in the satirical way that Riding Lights have done so.
"When I first read the text I was struck by the irreverence and boldness of the language. We're so used to our own Mystery Plays and here was something that was new: his writing had a cutting edge.
"It struck me as a very powerful, grotesque piece of imagination, and for a place like York that is used to medieval stories but not these ones, Mistero Buffo had an energy that was so refreshing."
Those who enjoyed the lampooning at play in Augustus Carp Esq should enjoy the cutting blade of Mistero Buffo.
"It was always intentional to have a link between the two plays this summer," says Paul. "Both are parables on the dangers of hypocrisy that can affect us all, particularly in the world we live in now where people believe they are right and everyone else is wrong."
Mistero Buffo, Riding Lights Theatre Company, Friargate Theatre, York, July 7 to 12, 7.30pm. Tickets: £10, concessions £7, on 0845 961 3000.
Updated: 10:15 Friday, July 04, 2003
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