Comment on the rising popularity in the UK of Easter passion plays, dramatizing the last week of Jesus’ life. Involving volunteers and professionals, the number of plays in towns and cities has grown from 10 to 80 in the past 10 years.
Alex Stewart-Clark, a trustee of the Passion Trust, which helps towns and cities put on plays throughout the UK:
Passion plays started in the 12th century because people were illiterate and this was a way of telling the story. Now church congregations are diminishing and this is a way of getting the story out there. When we started there were 10 plays in the UK, but the number has kept growing because they bring communities together and they are very powerful. Live theatre is the best entertainment when done well and people have told us they have been moved to tears when seeing the story enacted.
Ashley Herman – Wintershall Trustee & Director of Wintershall Plays, which puts on the passion play in Surrey and Trafalgar Square, London:
The Wintershall plays include a professional actor playing the part of Jesus, with a cast of volunteers. They have made a huge impact since they began in 1990 and the rise in popularity can be explained by a fascination with the Passion story. People are drawn into the live production, waiting in silence for the play to start and then so involved that they wait around after the play ends, caught in the emotion. The plays are an exploration of life and faith, with actors and audiences of all faiths and none.
James Burke-Dunsmore, who has portrayed Jesus in Wintershall plays for 21 years:
21 years portraying Jesus may seem odd, but a focussed repertoire offers all sorts of opportunity for deeper enjoyment, a rare thing at a time when we might think it advantageous to constantly diversify. Buses and sirens may pepper the performance, but we are not in a darkened theatre, I can see the 20,000 faces and this offers a great opportunity to keep the connection tight. If a plane roars overhead during the last words on the cross, I wait, the audience waits, the atmosphere is held, and then when we are all ready, we carry on.
Charlotte de Klee, producer of the Wintershall Players
The Passion of Christ is a story from our culture – historic, educational and spiritual. It needs to be told and shouldn’t be forgotten. You don’t have to believe it but you should know about it. We hope that in the future, other cities and towns will stage the play so it reaches an even wider audience.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said:
The Passion of Jesus in Trafalgar Square is an important chance for people to learn more about the story of Easter. Holy Week is a time for Christians to reflect on the life and teachings of Christ. This is also a great opportunity for all Londoners to see this unforgettable performance in an iconic location.
Professor Jolyon Mitchell, Edinburgh University, Director of the Centre for Theology and Public Issues; completed 10 years research on passion plays which will be published this year:
It is clear that there are many different reasons for the growth in passion plays around the UK and beyond. These reasons vary from place to place, from person to person and include the desire to preserve local heritage, the hope to promote passionate beliefs in the public square, the wish to participate in devotional action, the wish to share in a communal drama, the enjoyment of participating in live theatre. It is significant as they reflect both the enduring and intriguing quality of the core stories, as well as the diversity of belief and expressive practice around the UK.
Jan Miller, producer of the Poole Passion Play, which has been put on every two years since 2009:
We include volunteers and actors from a homeless project ‘Routes to Roots’ and another ‘Action on Addiction’. It has given people who have gone through tough times, a sense of hope and focus, looking forward to rehearsals and the performance. The audience includes many people who say they are non-religious, but everyone says they were moved by the play and found the story inspirational.