Having returned, somewhat belatedly, to research I did on the York Mercers’ Doomsday pageant wagon for the Joculatores Lancastrienses’ recreation for the York Festival of 1988, I have been ambushed by all manner of questions, some of which had not occurred to me in the hurly burly of the actual production. One of them is, ‘Why is there no provision whatsoever for lighting in the 1433 Indenture or anywhere in the Mercers’ accounts?’ There is a regular entry for processional torches for escorting the shrine of Corpus Christi, but no hint that these were used in the pageant. They were liturgical objects, intended solely for the procession, and were stored separately, with their ‘castles’ and banners, in the Mercers’ Hall.
There are two reasons why the question of lighting is important. The practical one is visibility. Doomsday is the last pageant in the cycle. Even with the most expeditious of performances and the most efficient organisation, somewhere on its journey along the pageant route, the sun was likely to set. In our recreation, which we timed for early evening along Petergate – the run of four pageants started at 7 p.m. – the audience had trouble seeing things on the lower deck of the waggon while the sun was going down, and in general when it had gone down. At the time we just found this vaguely annoying, and attempted to compensate with hidden lamps rigged up from a car battery – this was before the days of portable LEDs. Notes sent to Giorgio Vasari by a friend after the dress rehearsal of the Florentine Annunciation play of 1565/6 suggest that this was not a purely twentieth-century problem:
Lumi, lumi, lumi! Et habbiateci l'occhio, perché el mazzo non si vedi punto.
E vi dico che e’ non ve ne sará tanti che e’ non paino pochi.
Lights, lights, lights! And keep your eye on this, because you couldn't see the garland of angels at all. And I'm telling you that however many [lights] you have they will still seem too few.
Sheer visibility is important to a play. Apart from the spectacle (which as we shall see is thematic as well as affective), if you can't see what the actors are saying, it's much harder to hear what they are saying.