Written by Mark Lovelady and Daniel Bishop, who also directs, and produced by Nick Basson, the Liverpool Passion Plays are back with a…well yes, it’s obvious, but there was so much more to this though as using the Cathedral’s architecture and artwork as a backdrop, the audience ‘walk with Jesus’ through his story, starting as a young boy, and witnessing his entry into Jerusalem, his betrayal by Judas, and his subsequent trial and crucifixion.
Congregating in the Nave of the Cathedral, Mary (Katherine Wikeley) and Joseph (John Zang) worry where their son has gone, when we meet Young Jesus (Thomas Holmes) in the temple questioning the Pharisees, before we move forward to an Adult Jesus (Tom Martin) challenging the moneylenders.
In the Western Crossing, to the accompanying choir singing Peter Warlock’s ‘Bethlehem Down’, we observe the washing of the feet and contemplate the compassionate, forgiving nature of God. As the choir sing two pieces from Henry Purcell, we are taken to the moment Judas (Jack Watson) agrees to take the money and the Narrator in the form of The Archangel Gabriel (Ginnie Squires) leaves us in no doubt what this bond will mean to his soul.
From the Central Space we observe Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem with the Last Supper celebrated on the High Altar as the choir sing ‘The Father’s Love’, before moving into the Derby Transept, serving as Gethsemane, where Judas’ betrayal takes place. Tempted by the Devil (Julie Squires), Jesus stays true to his faith as the choir sing Philip Stopford’s ‘Do Not Be Afraid’.
Caiaphas (Reuben Havelock) and his Aide (Matthew Breen) throw Jesus over to Pilate (Matthew Holt), to the choir’s rendition of JS Bach’s ‘O Lord, who dares to smite Thee’, who, with some encouragement from the crowd, washes his hands and Jesus is forced to carry his cross to Golgotha set upon the Dulverton Bridge.
We know what follows but it’s further transformed here by the re-appearance of Mary who talks of her son: she may lose him, but his spirit will remain; she may never hold him again, but he will hold her; she is his mother, and this is Her story.
This was a powerfully moving production that used its location and backdrops to perfection, with split levels allowing strong interaction within and around the audience, with a special mention for the Front of House team facilitating the event.
The Chorus provided the solemnity whilst remaining uplifting with an emphasis on reflection and prayer. Yes, this is a Christian tale, but the morality at its heart transcends all beliefs. As Dave Allen would sign off: may your God go with you.
There is a large cast, creative and production team, which limits me naming every one of them, all of whom contributed in equal measure. Holmes deserves credit for bravely kicking things off and Ginnie Squires lucidly led us throughout with her hints of hope very much matched by warning, whilst Wikeley provided the maternal touch that really brought the message home.
Martin is to be commended for bringing the humanity of Jesus, so often overlooked, to the fore as we could identify with his anger in the temple and feel his frustration with those in authority whilst acknowledging his humility and forgiveness. In a moving performance, his fears and worries at betrayal are transformed into a very real pain that was touchingly overcome at the last through faith, showing this was very much His story as it is Our story too.
The greatest story ever told? This production took us into its midst and many a tear was shed.
Reviewer: Mark Davoren
Reviewed: 11th April 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★