The passion of Preston: Easter story told on the city street

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It was five years in the planning and almost three hours in the execution. Yet Preston’s first open air Passion Play since the Guild still needed a divine window in the weather to ensure it was a total triumph.

The rain which threatened to turn the city’s Good Friday production into a damp piece of dramatic art stopped bang on cue to allow the cast to act out the Easter story in front of an appreciatively dry audience of hundreds.

Preston Passion Play 2017, a contemporary production covering the final days of Jesus of Nazareth, set in Winckley Square Gardens and in front of the Harris Museum

Preston Passion Play 2017, a contemporary production covering the final days of Jesus of Nazareth, set in Winckley Square Gardens and in front of the Harris Museum

And producer/narrator Brenda Dell, 75, who had a big hand in the televised 2012 Passion at the bus station, was able to breathe a huge sigh of relief as the players took a final bow on the steps of the Harris Museum.

“It went very smoothly,” she said. “As far as the weather went I was shivering throughout. And the wind did take away the sound at times which is something that can happen in an outdoor production.

“But the cast were absolutely committed and on the ball. And the crowd were obviously very enthusiastic.”

Brenda chose a contemporary version of the Easter story with Jesus in jeans and a hoody arriving as pillion on Mary Magdalene’s motor scooter. The Apostles also wore hoodies, with ‘Team Jesus’ on the back.

The Vicar of Preston, Fr Timothy Lipscomb, played a blind beggar who had his sight restored by Jesus.

Brenda explained: “The modern version that we chose to do was primarily because we wanted people who didn’t know anything about the story of Jesus to actually see that his life was a life worth living.

“It (the production) was outside the bounds of church, which was the most important thing - to look at Jesus without any other aim. And I definitely think we achieved that.”

The first section of the Passion was played out in the newly-renovated Winckley Square Gardens, before a procession up Fishergate, with Christ carrying the cross past Good Friday shoppers and people enjoying lunch in city centre cafes.

The crucifixion scene was on the Flag Market, with the final acts being played out on the steps of the Harris as Jesus was resurrected and appeared to his disciples wearing a pure white hoody.

Neil Procter, a professional actor from Penwortham who played Jesus, said later: “It was certainly one of the most challenging roles I’ve ever played.

“It is such a big character. Jesus means different things to different people - everyone has a very unique version.

“And I am not a Christian, I’m a Buddhist. So I came into it with a blank canvas really. It has been a really interesting part and a real journey for me. For the first two months, every rehearsal was almost like a Bible study where we sat and talked about every line.

“The majority of the guys in the cast were Christians, but from different denominations.

“The weather could have been kinder. But while it wasn’t looking good early on, amazingly it stopped just in time.”