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GALLERY: Passion play brings Easter to the streets

First published in News The Westmorland Gazette: Photograph of the Author by , Arts correspondent

A Passion for Kendal took Easter out of the church and on to the streets.

Breathing a human realism into a story normally seen as purely religious, it straddled the sacred and secular and brought crowds flocking from across the UK to the town centre.

To stage it was a huge logistical undertaking by Kendal Community Theatre with bordering on 200 performers - actors, singers, instrumentalists - plus a small army of 25 techicians, taking part.

‘Crowd control’ was in the capable and selfless hands of the Rotary Club and Lions and the Boys Brigade played their part.

From the steps of Kendal Library the story unfolded as flamboyantly attired High Priests, Caiaphas and Annas (John Willshaw and Richad Sutton) and Scribes (Katy Whenray and Richard Matthew) set the scene for the betrayal of Jesus when Judas (played by Stephen Lockwood) agrees to the most infamous double cross in the history of mankind. And for what? He turns traitor for a mere £30.

From there the large crowd processed to Market Square to see the arrest of Jesus, onward to the town hall for the Trial, and parting like the Red Sea at the top of Lowther Street, as Kendal Mayor Jonathan Brook in the role of Jesus staggered bound to the cross down Highgate to the Brewery Art Centre and the culmination of the Saturday part of the event - the Crucifixion.

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For safety reasons (because the Brewery garden capacity is 500) a CCTV link relayed pictures from the foot of the cross to enable more people to see the production on a screen inside the United Reformed Church.

Saturday’s fire sculpture finale and Resurrection was staged at Kendal Castle.

Director Chris Taylor said the whole event exceeded all expectations and feedback had been “overwhelmingly positive.”

He added: “The sight of audiences twice the size we were expecting - over 1,000 on Friday, 500 on Saturday - took us slightly by surprise, but helped everyone raise their games and give some stunning performances - acting, singing and playing.

“The whole company that makes up Kendal Community Theatre say what an amazing experience its been.

“It has been brilliant.”

Chris said for him there were many highlights: “The audience laughed and cried. But even more powerful was to see 1,000 people silent for 20 minutes at a time at the Trial scene outside the town hall, and the Crucifixion at the Brewery.

“Total theatre.”


Caroline Moir’s script gave a modern voice to the 2,000 year-old story.

A Passion for Kendal was dramatic, witty at times, there were flashes of anger and the tension built perfectly as the action moved from each plot point across Kendal.

The drama heightened at Market Place (doubling as the Garden of Gethsemane) as Peter (Nigel Rice) told Jesus (Jonathan Brook) he’d stand beside him regardless. Judas (Stephen Lockwood) identifies Jesus to the Roman soldiers but does a runner, bursting through the crowds, distraught at his own treachery.

Accused of being a false prophet and leading others astray, Jesus is tried and Pontius Pilate (Jeff Thomas) offers to release him. Instead, the crowd outside the town hall bays for Barabbas to be freed. As Jesus is condemned his disciples sing a plaintive lament composed by Anne Pater with a lone violin accompaniment, played by Carol Davies.

Mary Magdala (Danielle Oliver) asks the soldiers why they mock Jesus so: “Because we can,” is the caustic reply.

The farther it progressed the darker the tale grew until Jesus collapses on Highgate to the beating drums of the Riversiders. Whipped, beaten, and exhausted, his uphill struggle strapped to the cross he could bear no longer.

The Crucifixion was on the steps of the Brewery Arts Centre garden where the enchanting Amabile Girls Choir with saxophonist David McGregor and woodwind players from the Westmorland Youth Orchestra injected the scene with Roland Fudge and Guy Wilson’s Mary’s Lament. And this is where something truly magical happened. There was an amazing transformation as soprano Rachel Little’s beautiful solo voice drifted across the grounds and the solemn and mournful atmosphere surrendered to a growing sense of calm and well-being.

Creativity was bursting out from every corner of Kendal's Medieval castle as the town's community play reached its finale. Using the ruins of the 12th Century fort as its backdrop the Passion of Kendal was able to muster a dramatic atmosphere for its production of the resurrection of Christ, on Easter Saturday evening.

With the sun setting behind them, all the actors spread around the historic ground circling the crowd in silence.

Symbolising the community spirit through a blaze of light, a sun and lamb shaped firework display was set off, bringing to an end the spectacular event which all ages enjoyed being a part of.

Adrian Mullen/Emma Lidiard

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