Why watch a Passion Play this Easter?

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Free, live performances of the Easter story take place each year across the UK. Events from the last week of Jesus Christ’s life are retold by local actors working with professional theatre companies to create compelling live theatre that is free for everyone. For many people, they are the best way to experience the story at the heart of Easter. Whether you know the story very well, or know nothing at all, you can experience it in through drama and music as it unfolds on the streets around you.

The Passion tells a real story of true events. And so it’s no accident that it has all the elements of stories that are compelling and confronting: treachery, betrayal, injustice, sacrifice, redemption and a startling ending.

It was the first time I thought of Jesus as my friend.

The Easter story never gets boring and each new Passion Play gives us rich new understanding and inspiration.

For people who already know a lot about Easter, the live experience of the people and events from the Easter story brings everything to life in a whole new way. From hearing the famous words of Christ in their context to seeing the reactions of individuals among the crowds that followed him, there is always something new to discover. You might be familiar with Pontius Pilate washing his hands like Lady Macbeth or Judas who betrayed his friend for 30 pieces of silver, but how do they fit into the full story? Seeing it enacted in familiar spaces brings the Easter story to life and many people come back year after year.

It was so moving. It just brings everything to you. It blew me away!

What is not commonly known is the fact that England once had a long and rich history of Passion Plays. Plays about the death and resurrection were performed within the medieval Mystery Play cycles that were performed in York, Coventry, Lincoln, Chester and other places around the country. Every Easter people who were often illiterate could see the story of Easter take place in elaborate productions that used expensive costumes and fake blood for the crucifixion as well as fireworks and a flaming hell mouth for the resurrection and the defeat of the devil.

I’m not religious but what an amazing day…

There were also additional scenes, such as the ‘Harrowing of Hell’ which attempted to dramatize what happened on Easter Saturday between Jesus’ death and resurrection. Since the Bible hints that Jesus descended into hell and set free the devil’s captives, the imaginative creators of the ‘Harrowing of Hell’ scenes had great fun showing the devil getting his just deserts in the bowels of hell.

Unfortunately, the Mystery Plays came to an end during the religious upheavals of the Reformation when the plays were thought to be too Catholic because they were performed on a Catholic feast day. By royal proclamation, all dramatization of religion and politics was banned and the Mystery Plays were no longer performed in public.

Today Passion Plays are enjoying a resurgence and can be found performed across the UK every Easter. The Medieval Mystery Plays began this resurgence when they were publicly performed during the Festival of Britain in 1951, and today they are performed regularly in York, Chester and Lincoln.

Find a play near you this Easter!

A woman with a microphone and one arm in the air standing on a plinth surrounded by a large crowd.