The History of The Leominster Passion Play
What is ‘The Leominster Passion Play’?
On almost every fourth Good Friday since 1983 church & local community perform ’The Leominster Passion Play. We tell of the major events in the last week in the earthly life of Jesus Christ.
How did it all begin?
It is unclear who had the original idea to create a dramatic performance of Christ’s Passion in Leominster instead of the annual silent walk of witness by local Christians. However, we know that Heather Williams of the Pentabus Theatre Company was commissioned in 1983 to develop a script and take ‘the greatest story ever told’ out onto the streets of Leominster. Some felt that the narrow Elizabethan streets of old Leominster were well suited to convey a hint of the lanes in old Jerusalem.
Heather, now Vicar of Bodenham, revealed that, from the first meeting, church members and community have always worked together. The first ‘Jesus’ was older than 33 and not a member of any church. “At first” she said, “we had only three scenes.” The play started at the Priory Church, moved to where Barclays Bank is now, up Drapers Lane and into Corn Square for the Crucifixion scene. “The actors all wore black tee shirts and trousers, with coloured bands to denote the general groups of characters such as the disciples”.
They aimed to simply to tell the story, giving Leominster a chance to find out what Good Friday & Easter is really about. For some people the Passion Play quickly became an important part of their Easter Christian worship.
And still going today?
By 1989 ‘The Leominster Passion Play’ was well established on both the churches and community calendars. By 1991 a new script had been written by Mr Ian Sorley. A former drama master of the Royal Ballet School in Richmond Park, Ian was also an accomplished actor and director. Many will remember his one man shows based on key figures from history and literature – Dickens was a particular favourite. He was also a member of a classical company presenting historical plays and performances in many royal palaces. That company performed a specially written saga about the life of our local Hampton Court when it was officially reopened in the late 1990s.
Writing the script for The Passion play, Ian carefully included many direct quotations from the New Testament scriptures of The Bible. Ian’s new script was accepted as ‘THE Leominster Passion Play’ and with new costumes, props & music, the narrow streets and courtyards in Leominster became Jerusalem in 33AD. Ian also directed the play in 1995.
Due to acting commitments Ian could not direct in 1999. Despite many appeals, no production took place that year…perhaps Ian was too tough an act to follow. Some feared it was the end of ‘The Leominster Passion Play’.
How has it survived?
Despite no production in 1999, one member of Churches Together in Leominster, from the Priory church, never gave up looking. Mary knew of the drama work of a previous member of the cast & she started quietly ‘nagging’. For almost a year this committed lady kept asking Sue Downey to take up the challenge of producing and directing Passion Play 2000. Finally, Mary persuaded Sue to offer her services to Churches Together in Leominster (CTL). After a few moments silence from the clergy and committee members, Father Slater, from St Ethelberts Church, said ‘If we cannot tell the Lord’s story in His Millennium, when can we tell it?’
The rest, as they say, is history. Church and community really got together in January 2000 to build on all that the previous directors and cast had achieved. Radio & Television followed the action on Good Friday, as did Dutton House Studios. Mike James and his team donated their skills to film, edit, and produce video, CD & DVD etc to buy. Some cast sent other copies across the world.
Sue also directed 2004’s production.
In 2004 it became clear that ‘The Leominster Passion Play’ was now a truly community production. The cast and technical crew came from all Christian Churches and none. Therefore, in order to ensure the future of ‘The Leominster Passion Play’ Churches Together in Leominster became responsible as the commissioning body.
Alex Outhwaite took up the challenge of the Passion Play in 2008. One crisis forced her to find a new route just one week before the Good Friday performance. The successful 2008 production of ‘The Leominster Passion Play’ was somehow ‘elevated’ to various websites creating increased interest for information about the 2012 production. We are grateful to Alex, and friends, for creating this website in response to early requests for information and to celebrate the continuing story of The Leominster Passion Play.
In January 2011 Sue and the production team began to encourage churches, schools, community groups and individuals to once again bring ‘The Leominster Passion Play’ to our streets on Good Friday April 6th 2012.
Go to GET INVOLVED for ways you too can join in.