My daughter has recently been performing in Benjamin Britten’s Opera Noye’s Fludde (Noah’s Flood) which is a community opera based on a mystery play. This was a charming and moving performance – not least for seeing her cast as a rooster!
What struck me was the juxtaposition of the Old Testament story with hymns interspersed, to be sung by the audience with the cast. The first Hymn was “Lord Jesus, think on me”. At first I found it quite anachronistic to have Jesus mentioned in the same story as the Genesis tale of Noah – I was wanting to keep it all chronologically pure! But then the audience had another hymn to sing – “Eternal father, strong to save”, which was incredibly moving as the Noah family and the animals prayed for safety in the ark. I started thinking about the response of the original audience to the mystery play. Rather than seeing Noah’s Ark as a stand-alone story, having these hymns as a sort of response to it puts the whole story in context for Christians. Praying to Jesus to think on us is completely appropriate then. I wonder how many other times we put old testament stories in a separate compartment, and neglect to integrate them into our story?
The final hymn sung by everyone was to the tune of Tallis’ Canon – and the last line of words we all sang was ‘the hand that made us is Divine”. What a wonderful line to have running around in your head as you leave the performance! I’m sure works like this have an impact on all involved, whether cast, families or audience, as these timeless words resonate.
I wonder what other Old Testament favourite stories could be used like this? The Miracle plays were a way that uneducated people could engage with these stories and fit them into their faith, and I think they could be useful again.