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|2681: The Passion
of Jesus, Trafalgar Square, London
Passion of Jesus, Trafalgar Square, London.
It was notionally non-denominational, though the organiser is
a Roman Catholic, with this fact being accentuated at the end
by the presence of a Catholic cardinal.
The Passion of Jesus was presented out in the open, in Trafalgar
Square, one of the most recognisable landmarks in any capital
city in the world. In the 1820s King George IV engaged the architect
John Nash to redevelop the area formerly known as the King's
Mews. Nash also designed, among other famous buildings, Buckingham
Palace (although the facade is not his work). The resulting
square was named in honour of Admiral Horatio Nelson's victory
in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The present architecture
is the work of Sir Charles Barry, who is best known for the
rebuilding of the Houses of Parliament after the original buildings
were destroyed by fire in 1834. At the centre of the square
is Nelson's Column. Trafalgar Square has long been the site
of political demonstrations and community gatherings.
The Passion of Jesus is one of several biblical-themed plays
that have been performed annually since 1989 at the Wintershall
Estate, a private estate in Surrey that has been the home of
businessman Peter Hutley and his wife Ann for the past 50 years.
In recent years the plays have also been performed outside of
Wintershall, and the Passion of Jesus was first performed in
Trafalgar Square in 2010. The company of amateur but keen actors,
musicians and animals have also performed as far afield as the
United States and Australia.
The Post Office uses Charing Cross, just a stone's throw away,
to mark the centre of London. The embassies of South Africa,
Canada and Malaysia, as well as the National Gallery, the National
Portrait Gallery, and St Martin's in the Field Church, are all
close by. Trafalgar Square is also famous for its fountains
(which were turned off for the play) and for its many pigeons,
some of whom flew disturbingly close to the heads of the audience
at times. One can walk to the seat of government by wandering
down Whitehall, past Downing Street and on toward the Palace
of Westminster, or down the Mall toward Buckingham Palace. One
can easily walk to the London theatres from here, to several
of the royal parks, or to the main shopping thoroughfares of
London. It is, however, a nightmare for traffic, and driving
around the area is ill-advised.
The opening introduction was done by Peter Hutley. The play
was performed by a large cast, but lacking a programme (see
below) I am at a disadvantage to name them. The closing address
was given by His Eminence Vincent Cardinal Nichols, Archbishop
The date & time:
Good Friday, 18 April 2014, 12.00pm.
What was the name of the service?
The Passion of Jesus.
How full was the building?
Trafalgar Square was packed. With crowds that size it's difficult
to count, but I would estimate somewhere in the region of 10,000
people were there.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Not at all; there were far too many people for that. The stewards were trying to keep sections clear so that Jesus' donkey and Pilate's horse could process freely through the crowd.
Was your pew comfortable?
There were no pews. In spite of arriving half an hour early,
I found that all the steps had already been taken, so I sat
on the floor, along with most people. It was one of the most
uncomfortable sitting experiences I have ever had! I experienced,
at various times, a child sitting on my foot, someone's knee
in my back, and the complete loss of feeling in my right leg.
I had no room to stretch out.
How would you describe the pre-service
Busy. There was a family next to me eating a meal from a well-known
fast food chain, and various people were trying to locate their
friends and families on the opposite sides of the Square whilst
talking to them on their mobile phones.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Good afternoon. I make this announcement on behalf of the producers,
the directors, all those backstage, and the cast of the Passion
of Jesus in London."
What books did the congregation use during the
Stewards were handing out free programmes, but when I indicated
that I would like one, the steward simply looked through me
and passed one to the person behind me. I wasn't able to get
hold of one to read.
What musical instruments were played?
There was no live music, but some canned music was piped through
the PA system at various times.
Did anything distract you?
The uncomfortable seating alluded to earlier was a great distraction.
The Last Supper was also interrupted by a helicopter flying
overhead. And then there were the pigeons!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Intensely dramatic. You may view the performance on YouTube.
It began with Peter Hutley explaining that the intention of
the players was to share their faith with the crowd. He said
that Jesus, who through miraculous signs had proved that he
was God, had been crucified by an occupying power for political
reasons. The actors then took over, speaking about Jesus' effect
on the common people vs the priestly hierarchy. Jesus' entry
into Jerusalem was re-enacted, including the performing of miracles
and confrontations with the scribes and Pharisees. The actors
moved freely through the crowd as they portrayed the events
of the week, including the Last Supper, Jesus' prayer at Gethsemane,
the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, Pilate's questioning and condemnation
of Jesus, the carrying of the Cross, the crucifixion, the burial,
the discovery of the empty tomb by the Marys, the appearances
of the resurrected Jesus, and finally the Ascension (represented
by Jesus walking quickly out of the Square). The hauling up
to their crosses of Jesus and the two thieves was especially
dramatic as a recording of "O Sacred Head" by an a
cappella choir was played.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
The play itself lasted for an hour and a half, after which Cardinal
Nichols spoke for about three minutes.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
Mixed. Peter Hutley's opening remarks were very clear, fairly
uncontroversial, and they put the play in its context. The play
itself was excellently done. But I was sorely disappointed in
the Cardinal's remarks, which amounted to little more than a
reminder that we had just witnessed The Greatest Story Ever
Told. The crowd mostly ignored him as they stood up and gathered
their things in preparation for leaving.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
The fact that most of the action took place among the audience,
and the inclusion of the audience in various scenes such as
the baying crowd at the acquittal of Barabbas, were nice touches
to remind us that this is a play that is not remote and to be
observed, but one in which we all are active partakers. Finally:
"Out of the mouths of babes..." as they say; I overheard
a little boy ask his father a question that I'll remember long
after seven days' time (see below).
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I would be tempted to reiterate the point about the uncomfortable
seating, but I think that given the context of a crucifixion
this would seem churlish. Rather, the point that really got
under my skin was the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane. There
was a slightly prolonged fight scene that seemed more fitting
for a comedic Western brawl than for a passion play; maybe artistic
license was taken a little too far here.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Hanging around and looking lost might attract some attention
in churches. In Trafalgar Square, this is standard fare for
most tourists. Some of the cast stuck around to chat to the
audience, many of whom wanted their photos taken with the actors.
How would you describe the after-service
There weren't any drinks or snacks being offered. I wandered
off to a nearby food outlet and picked up a tasty little box
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 It's not really applicable, but I would definitely
be tempted to return next year.
Did the service make you
feel glad to be a Christian?
I wouldn't use the word "glad" it was a visual reminder
of the basis for why I am a Christian, a visceral expression
of that which already has my assent. I might have been gladder
if as much emphasis had been placed on the Resurrection as on
the Crucifixion; it seemed slightly lopsided in its emphasis.
What one thing will you
remember about all this in seven days' time?
The little boy who was sat next to me and asked his dad, "Did that really happen?"
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