The Passion of Hornchurch

Category: Theatre 11

It’s a phrase that you only hear once every 5 years… and it is always a lot more eventful than the Solar Eclipse:  and this year it is happening again.

The Passion Play – what springs to mind when you hear that?

An anti-Semitic Mel Gibson? The story of Jesus’ last days on earth? Evangelicalism and open air theatre combining? Is that even a thing? Well. Yes.

It is happening again here in Hornchurch

For the last 20 years the churches of Hornchurch (and further afield) have got together to create what can only be described as an incredible spectacle. It started with the great visionary work of a man called Freddy Sayer. To execute it, he decided to consult the help of an actor called Kevin Walsh, who had the expertise and know how to put on an open air theatre show in the middle of Hornchurch.

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In 1995, I was a mere 8 years old and I had one line in the temple scene of the show: “Can you teach us?” – I remember it clearly… now.  But then sitting on the green on Good Friday watching Kevin, as Jesus, enraptured in the storytelling as the scene built up to my line I wasn’t even aware I had to speak.

Being the pro that Kevin is he simply looked at me and said, “Shall I teach you?”

I just sat there and nodded in awe of being a part of something so special.  It wasn’t until the show had finished did my parents inform me of my mistake – it was news to me.  I was in the moment on that Good Friday, along with everyone else who was present as an audience member or a performer.  It was a very touching and moving experience.

Then in 2001 they decided to perform The Passion Play again. I was now a little older (but not old enough to play Jesus much to my now diva-ish disgust) and I was playing one of Pontius Pilates’ servants.  The Passion Play was on very shaky ground when we decided to do it again as it is a very expensive feat to put on – and I was summoned as a young member of the parish of Hornchurch to the Vicarage outside St. Andrews to fight for it.

“How do we raise the money?  It’s far too expensive and is it the best use of that money?” I simply replied – “We have no choice.  It is that important.”

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So 2001 went ahead (not necessarily because they listened to a 14 year old, but I like to think it is).  Being a servant was fun, running and screaming through the crowds to get to tell the story of a wonderful miracle that occurred – and again the good people of Essex came to watch, came to enjoy and came to be a part of what proved to be another spectacular event.

And so the legend continued and I have taken on more and more various roles. I was a soldier in 2006, and then I went into the technical team where I really enjoy setting up the play with an amazing team and working one of the spotlights in the midst of thunder and lightning at the top of the Queen’s Theatre in 2011.

The show has changed a lot over time; Jesus is now being played by Simon Pugsley, and the play is becoming a very well supported event every 5 years.  It is becoming a part of the Easter landscape of Hornchurch, nay Essex.  And I urge you with all of my might to come and watch it this year.

I will always look back on my time involved withThe Passion Play and be proud of it.  Proud of everyone who I have met and proud of the profound effect it has had on my life.  There is no doubt that without it and without Kevin, I would not have performed at the National Theatre hundreds of times.  Its effect on everyone is different and it should be a subjective experience for everyone involved and who watches it.

As far as I am concerned it has nothing to do with Evangelism, although that is the driving force behind the event, it has nothing to do with whether you believe in God and the story of Jesus or not,but it is an artistic and cultural event that is just wonderful to witness.

If you are reading this and want to get involved then please feel free to contact the Hornchurch Passion Play via their website here: http://www.hpp2015.org

Written by Adam Berry, used with permission from him and schpunk.co.uk

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