Riotous, Harrowing, Joyful: The Birmingham Passion Play

Report from Rachael Orrell from Saltmine Trust

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

The success of the Birmingham Passion Play was an incredible testament to the fulfillment of this prayer; redefining and reimagining the boundaries of theatre, witness and the church. The Play was unprecedented in scale and ambition and 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.

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. Using the backdrop of the council house provided an authentic authority to proceedings. As the community cast chanted for Jesus’ crucifixion, the effect of the same hundreds 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. It took time to get the actors on the crosses but it 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.  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We could never have foreseen the way God superseded all our wildest expectations for The Birmingham Passion Play.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.

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