The Birmingham Passion Play 2019 by Saltmine Trust was unprecedented in scale and ambition, not only in artistic vision but also in demanding the time, energy and commitment of a huge team of professionals and amateurs to bring this vision to life. Ultimately it provided a powerful glimpse of the reality of God on the streets of Birmingham, empowering the community to transform their city with immediacy and, hopefully, long lasting impact.
Rehearsing two separate casts with different directors was also interesting in terms of narrative cohesion. As we only had occasional weekends and one evening a week, it was necessary to begin community cast rehearsals two months before the professionals were even fully cast. BPP absolutely depended on the driving framework of the community cast; and it was essential that all members felt valued and invested in. Overall, the BPP was truly by the city, for the city. Not just the city of Birmingham, but also for everyone involved, around (160+) who dedicated their time and talents to the project. From the people in the café lining New Street who came out to watch, to the builders who turned off their machines during the Victoria Square scenes, the project served as a celebration of the power of collaboration.
There was a palpable atmosphere of riotous expectation from the moment crowds began to gather around the buskers, gaining momentum as we processed down New St as people danced, sang (God on the Street, God on the Street, The Liberator is here, The Liberator is here, Jesus, Jesus) and jumped with real freedom. The relative stillness of the Last Supper and increasingly sinister Gethsemane scene provided a natural breathing point before the crowd began to turn at the point of the trial. Again, the community cast were excellent in altering the collective emotive mood, and using the backdrop of the council house provided an authentic authority to proceedings. Although the community cast took some encouragement to chant for Jesus’ crucifixion, the effect of the same team of people who had celebrated his appearance following him back down New St calling for his death was harrowing. Seeing this crowd fill the cathedral to witness Jesus’ crucifixion was extremely powerful; we also gathered people who had been passing through the grounds. Although the logistics of getting the actors on the crosses were quite complicated, the time it took added to the torturous drawn-out nature of Jesus’ death, providing time for reflection.
Having to perform the Resurrection scene twice on the Wednesday and Thursday because the cathedral was full to bursting was an amazing indication of how the audience had journeyed with us, physically and emotionally. There was an audible gasp as Marcel re-appeared as the resurrected Jesus, and a genuine eruption of joy as we closed the play with “Joyful Joyful”. We cannot imagine having performed the Passion without the resurrection as is traditional – after the initial excitement and subsequent tension, anger and mourning, the elation of the final scene meant the audience left the cathedral carrying a sense of real transformative hope for the city.
We could never have foreseen the way God superseded all our wildest expectations for The Passion Play. All of the risks we took paid off and considering all the things that could have gone wrong, it was a genuine miracle that nothing actually did. It was an absolute privilege to have been part of such an amazing project; and one which we believe will continue to inspire change, in the spiritual landscape of Birmingham.
Well done to you all on a thoughtful, provocative and imaginative performance which brought the Easter story to life
I watched some of this play but couldn’t see all of it. I saw the crucifixion and the part in the cathedral, it was really really good. The actresses and actors were good with their lines and the singing and dancing was excellent, the person playing Jesus did a great job, I had tears in my eyes and actually saw several people who were crying as well. The final song in the cathedral was wonderful, it reminded me of sister act, I loved it.
Performance was amazing. Had tears in my eyes. Special shout out to the drunk guy from Ireland who thought the crucifixion was actually happening and saying this isn’t right lol – like I told you, Jesus done this for us brother. God bless everyone and look forward to seeing the full video.
Thank you for inviting us the community cast to help portray this important story that is so moving and celebrated all over the world. Thank you so much. Sad all the rehearsals and performances have come to an end. Xx
Managed to follow the whole play with 2 children (6 and 10) so powerful and engaging. We were on the second performance at the cathedral – worth the wait as we couldn’t get in as it was full. Children truly enjoyed and message was so clear presented. Great to have the Contemporary touch! We are definitely going again next year!
Blown away. You guys always put on a good show- but this? This was something else. Haven’t stopped taking about it since Tuesday. My children got so much out of it too. Loved that not only did you perform on the streets of the city centre, but that you actually SET it in Birmingham, using local landmarks etc. The use of modern day language brought the Bible to life and special mention to the actors for really capturing and expressing the humanity of the disciples. Thank you.