The Challenge: keeping the Passion story real

0 Comment
332 Views

How do directors and actors face the challenge of bringing the Passion story to life and making the characters real? This blog has insights from the Edinburgh Easter Story and the Oxford Passion Play ‘A Sword Shall Pierce Your Soul’.

 

Edinburgh

One way is to include real events in the world and local community. Director Suzanne Lofthus meets this challenge by changing the script of the Edinburgh Easter Story every year: ‘The challenge I set myself every year is to look at whether the message still has something to say today.’

In 2013 the performance took place in Scotland on the eve of a referendum: Jesus was a radical who wants to shake up the status quo by encouraging people to imagine a different way of living, which makes him a target for Minister Herod and his ruthless spin doctor, McKayfus.

In 2021, the invasion of Ukraine had just happened and they focussed on telling the story as a group of refugees coming together, and the one thing they still had was the gift of storytelling and their history.

The 2024 play focussed on women and told the story from the perspective of 11 women whose lives were changed by the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Working together with the actors to give them names, faces and identities, the fresh take was inspired by injustices still being suffered by women in parts of the world today. I’ve really been affected by stories from Afghanistan and Iran and other places where women are not allowed to have a voice. Very often, the women’s stories in the story of Jesus get missed or sidelined. A lot of them don’t even have names. It was really interesting to look at how they were affected and changed by encountering Jesus. One of the actors has written the part of Claudia, Pilate’s wife. Another has written the part of Mary, Jesus’s mother. Often in these plays, Mary doesn’t really say anything, so we’ve given her a voice, and as an older woman which is really nice.

Lauren Nicol played Mary Magdalene in the Edinburgh Easter story

Historically, women had to be attached to a male figure, but she’s not,” she said. “It’s like she’s the feminist of the time. As a woman, there’s a lot to take forward from that and their association with the spread of the word. She’s the first to see Jesus alive and that’s a really powerful message. I really felt it burning inside of me that I wanted it to be a Christian story that I was telling. Easter is obviously one of the main festivals so looking at it from a women’s perspective has been really interesting. I’m so lucky and honoured to be a part of it.

 

Oxford

Another way is to develop a role based on personal experiences. In the Oxford Passion Play, titled A Sword Shall Pierce Your Soul, Christi Warner played Mary. She was drawn to Mary because of a family tragedy – the death of her 18-year-old elder sister in a car accident. Christi was born in Namibia and acted in community theatre, using drama to help people explore issues including HIV, Malaria and how to resolve water shortages.  She described how her experiences brought insight into the role:

This brought me really close to Mary, and understanding what she must have felt. For me, I lost a sister. For her, it was a son. She was a really strong woman. She had such grace, such faith. That empowered me as a woman as well.

Carolyn Lloyd-Davies, co-producer of A Sword Shall Pierce Your Soul, said that writing the script for the hour-long outdoor play, “I wanted to push back against what I would call this sanitised Virgin Mary, who is meek and mild because when you look at the Gospels, she had to be a very strong woman.”

Anita France played Mary in the Edinburgh Easter story and was involved in writing some of the lines for her character.

It was difficult because we knew so little. We can look at Jesus; he was loving and caring and you can tell a lot about someone’s upbringing by studying them, so you’ve got a fairly good idea about the basic nature of their parents. Mary was very brave. She risked being stoned to death by accepting God’s wish to have a child outside marriage. We’re told in the Bible that she kept things in her heart and thought about them. She was also at the cross to support her son and watched him being tortured to death. Not every mother could do that. You can guess the sort of woman that she was.

 

Three actors in colourful robes and headscarves are holding up costumes and inspecting them.

The Easter Story, Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh.