North Lancashire Passion Play was performed outdoors and in churches in four locations around North Lancashire: in St Oswald’s, Warton at 7.30pm on April 11th 2019; Church of the Ascension, Torrisholme at 2pm on April 13th 2019; Lancaster Priory at 7.30pm on April 13th and Lancaster City Centre at 12.30pm on April 19th. The production was devised, directed and co-ordinated by Emma Rucastle, a freelance theatre practitioner. Between the 4 performances, an estimated audience of around 400 people watched the Easter story unfold around and amongst them and many more heard about it via coverage on Radio Lancashire’s faith programme. Even more will hear about it via a forthcoming short making-of film and via an interview in the Church Times. The very contemporary interpretation showed this is a story not just of what happened two thousand years ago but is extremely relevant to today’s society. One of the actors said “Emma wrote a script which balanced touches of humour with a reverential treatment of scripture, allowing a retelling of the story which was comprehensive but accessible, even to those with little knowledge of the Christian faith”.
A cast of 25 community actors, ranging in age from 7 to over 90, was assembled and rehearsed. Some of these were first-time performers, some highly experienced. Four vicars were involved in consulting on the production and venue arrangements, as was the leader of Lancaster Churches Together, who was also in the cast. A professional theatre director/practitioner co-ordinated the whole, assisted by a professional Music Director. Both the director and music director also performed in the production. One of the actors said “Emma gave her cast of amateurs the skills and confidence not only to act in four very different venues but to sing in each performance – not an easy task!” Many other people were involved in stewarding venues, film-making, provision of refreshments and prayer support and, again, there was a wide range of ages and experience levels.
The Production was deliberately technically simple in conception and execution – largely to allow smooth and easy transition between four very different venues, but also, artistically and thematically to allow the story to shine simply and truthfully. This was achieved very effectively in all venues, but especially in the open-air performance in Market Square, where, standing on a slightly raised stage in the centre of town, the cast captured and held the attention of a large and appreciative audience.
All performances were accessible. Wheelchair users were helped to be in the best positions to see and move around by stewards.
The head of BBC Radio Lancashire’s faith programming came to the first production evening and interviewed the director and cast pre-show. He was so impressed that he featured the interviews more than once on the radio and played them several times on Good Friday morning, encouraging the public to come to see the production in Lancaster City Centre. Several members of the audience told us they had come because of hearing the interviews that morning. All the churches involved publicised to their communities and the production will be featured via an interview with the director in a forthcoming edition of the Church Times.
The reaction from the audience to the play has fantastic. Some members of the audience and the cast were moved to tears. Our most unique feature – commented on appreciatively by many – was that there was no one actor playing “Jesus”. This part was shared throughout the cast, sometimes with multiple actors playing the role at once. The idea behind this was to encourage the audience to see the Jesus in each and every person and in themselves. One actor said “I enjoyed the privilege of playing Jesus”.
Two actors, one over 80 years old and one just over 90 both took part in one venue and were thrilled to be involved as they had been involved in Passion Plays throughout their lives and had not expected to be again. They were very encouraging about this play’s new style.
The Passion Play was a most impressive new production…Within a few minutes of the first performance there was a real sense that the audience was deeply engaged in what was happening around them; the silences during the play were particularly profound. The references to current world issues worked very well and reminded us of the relevance of the story to today’s world.