Biblical Dramas are a great way to get people in the community working together on a project that tells God’s story in a lively and engaging way. It draws people into the narrative, builds relationships with others in, and outside of, the church and can be a lot of fun. Geoff Hufton writes about the passion for drama in South Gillingham.
The Parish of South Gillingham has staged two major drama productions over the last two years. The first was a Passion Play, performed on Parkwood Green on Good Friday 2015. This was very much a traditional telling of the Passion Narrative, although through the use of monologues by some of the ‘major players’, the play attempted to get inside the minds of those involved and speculate in more depth on some of their motives, thoughts and feelings.
The audience (of over a thousand people) were allowed to occupy the same space as the players so that the action took place among them, rather than separate from them. They were also encouraged to take part in the crowd scenes themselves, joining the ecstasy of Palm Sunday, the bitterness of the crowd crying ‘crucify him’, and the sorrow and loss of the crucifixion. This naturally posed some challenges for the production but these were overcome in various ways. Among the characters in the play was one simply called ‘Everywoman’. She represented the fickleness of the crowd, appearing at various points and expressing the changing attitudes to Jesus. This character might equally well have been called ‘Everyman’ but we had a need of more female parts for the play.
The part of Jesus was taken by a professional actor but all other parts were played by amateurs, many of them from the congregations of the four churches which make up the parish. We also had cast members and ‘behind the scenes helpers’, some from other non Anglican churches, and others with no church connection whatsoever. Part of the vision of the project was to involve both Christians and non-Christians working together, and to bring the Easter story to as many people as we possibly could
Following the success of the Passion Play the cast and helpers were enthusiastic to try something else and so a Nativity Play was planned. This was performed on 17th and 20th December 2016. The Director (Geoff Down), producer (Paul Warren) and author (Geoff Hufton) were the same team as for the Passion Play, as were many of the cast and crew. The time of year necessitated an indoor production and the venue was St. Matthew’s Church, Wigmore which was transformed into the Holy Land for the occasion. Being indoors enabled us to stage a number of special effects for which we are very much indebted to our director who was extremely generous with his time, energy and resources.
The play was in fact two plays interwoven. One told the traditional Nativity Story through the eyes of a fourth wise man who did not go with the others and later tried to catch them up, encountering participants in the story along the way. The other strand to the play told a parallel but contemporary story of two Syrian refugees (Miriam and Yusef) forced to flee the upheaval in their country and entering Britain illegally where Miriam gives birth to her first born child in squalor and hardship. The point was, we hope, clear.
The church was full for both performances, with many others who had been unable to get tickets attending the final dress rehearsal. Tickets were free although a voluntary collection was taken up, with the proceeds going to buy an industrial food processor which has been donated to the refugee kitchen in Calais. This has been installed in the mobile kitchen which has been fitted out to enable hot food to be provided to refugees across Europe in places as far afield as Greece and Serbia. Given the theme of the second strand to our play this seemed a very appropriate outcome and one with lasting benefit. South Gillingham has been supporting efforts in Calais for the last year or so.
Currently there are plans for a further productions and considerable enthusiasm from all those involved previously to continue in our efforts to bring the Christian message to as wide an audience as possible in the area where we live.
- Photographs by Tony Mitchell.
- Featured image is Sue Jelfs playing a bereaved mother.