The Passion of Jesus in Trafalgar Square

Actor James Burke-Dunsmore, in front of National Gallery

Actor James Burke-Dunsmore, in front of National Gallery

The Passion of Christ is to be re-enacted in the heart of London on Good Friday,  by a cast of more than 100 actors.  The trial of Jesus will take place on the steps of the National Gallery. The Crucifixion will be under the shadow of Nelson’s Column.

The production, by the Wintershall Estate was announced at a press conference in the crypt of  St Martin in the Fields, attended by the Archbishop of Westminster, Most Rev Vincent Nichols, and writer-producer Peter Hutley.

Mr Hutley said he thought an audience of around 25,000 would witness the drama. Hutley said he would have been surprised if the mayor of London's office had not given permission for the performance to proceed. "It is a wonderful Christian tradition being performed to illustrate our native faith in a central setting. Soaked in history, it seems the natural place to do it. Boris Johnson was wise enough to recognise that as well."

When asked if the play was a form of proselytising, Hutley replied: "We are evangelising as hard as we can. We are trying to give the story to people who have not had the opportunity to hear it. It is not taught any longer, it is not considered as essential knowledge."

This will not be the first religious event in Trafalgar Square, which has hosted Islamic, Hindu and Jewish celebrations, but it will be the most explicitly Christian performance to take place there.

Archbishop Nichols said he was thrilled at the prospect of the play. “One of the great themes for debate is religion in the public square and there is no square more public than Trafalgar,” he said.

“This story lies at the heart of the culture of this country. To be unaware of the Christian story is to be unable to make sense of so much which makes up the fabric of the society in which we live."

“The Passion explores the values of being human, the nature of pain and suffering, through the Cross, compassion, forgiveness, hope and a new vision of eternal life.”

The Archbishop said: “This play is not proselytising. Knowledge of Christ is not something that can be forced on someone. It is an invitation to people to get to know Christ personally. That can be a transformational experience.”

 “I am delighted that people from so many different Christian denominations will be coming together to remind Londoners why the bank holiday of Good Friday is observed. The Wintershall plays have, for many years, brought the scriptures alive to many thousands of people. The production of the Passion of Jesus in Trafalgar Square will build on that and bring the true meaning of Easter to many more here in the centre of London.”

A committed Christian, actor James Burke-Dunsmore has played Jesus for 12 years. “The experience has never felt mundane,” he said. “The build-up is so intense. The production is very graphic at times and then there are moments of great stillness. You are just a shell for the audience.”

At one time James performed in a production of Hamlet around the same time as he was playing in the Passion.  “There was a great contrast between playing Shakespeare’s darkest character and Jesus – but I found it quite helpful” he said.

Walking into Trafalgar Square in front of the National Gallery where the three crosses will stand for the Crucifixion, James said: “It’s a strange feeling when you walk across a place where you are going to perform. The actual drama is just a few hours but if you come back again, the place feels quite different.”

The play begins at 3.15pm on Good Friday, 2 April 2010.

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