Arts Diary: 2008's Other Big Event Is a Mystery; Philip Key on Plans for the Chester Mystery Plays

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THEY have already begun preparing for the big event in 2008. And we are not talking about Liverpool's European Capital of Culture year. The Chester Mystery Plays go back much further, to an era that really remains shrouded in mystery.

Scholars think they began more than 700 years ago in the 14th century although no one is quite certain.

What is better known is that today the Mystery Plays of Chester are performed once every five years. The last occasion was in 2003 when the Biblical plays were seen by 12, 000 people with queues for the sell-out performances.

Now work is already going ahead for the 2008 series which is expected to cost around pounds 250, 000.

The plays, enacting scenes from the Bible story, are now staged in only three main venues, York, Wakefield and Chester.

The Chester cycle is thought to be the earliest, some 25 different plays in rhyming verse.

The Chester series also has the most complete original texts -- although they are periodically updated -- and were said to have a longer run than the rivals after they were banned in the 1500s.

The plays are today organised by a board although chairman John Ross, a founder member, sadly died just before the 2003 event.

His place has been taken by Jo Sykes, a board member who has been involved with the plays for many years as actor and producer.

``We were all saddened by John's death but knew he'd expect the show to go on, '' she says.

``We are glad to have the continued support of his widow Hazel while John will always be remembered for his powerful energy and strong will in ensuring the plays' survival. …