The Old Town Hastings and Lewes have both been preparing a new on-line version of the world-famous Oberammergau Passion Play.
Every ten years, pilgrims from all over the world flock to Oberammergau in Germany to see the re-enactment of Jesus’ last days performed by villagers. The first performance was in 1634 in thanksgiving for deliverance from plague.
In Hastings, as in Lewes, last year’s plans were postponed and they have had to reinvent the wheel again this year for a new digital audience.
“We had to cancel last year because of Covid but we didn’t want to wait until 2022,” said Hastings Old Town play director Heather Leech. “So we decided to re-imagine the story of Jesus’ last hours for a digital age unimaginable for those Bavarian villagers in 1634. The Old Town’s re-enactment does not go back to the seventeenth century but I felt it was important to maintain a local tradition of some fifty years or so. This is a joint effort between the Church of England and our Roman Catholic friends at St Mary Star of the Sea and so we also want to sustain our shared Good Friday witness.”
The re-enactment begins at St Clement’s and the different scenes in the Good Friday story take place at various places in the Old Town – including St Mary Star of the Sea and outside the Jenny Lind Pub – before the final scenes including the crucifixion happen outside of All Saints. Some forty people take part and there are usually some three hundred or so spectators.
The social distance rule meant that nothing spontaneous, live action or ensemble could happen this year so Heather had to reconsider what each scene conveyed through the Bible readings, the character dialogue and the prayers. “As director, I am always keen on the sound of the procession of witness and know that there are some small elements that cannot normally be shown in such a large scale event. Here was an opportunity to focus on some of the smaller ingredients: the dice, the nails, the water. One thing I’m pleased with is my decision to release each scene on the parish Facebook Page according to the timescale of the original Good Friday. On the streets we take about an hour and a half; this year we will release the first scene at 6 a.m. and continue to do so through Good Friday in real time with events as written in the Gospels.”
The Good Friday Procession will be back on the streets next year, promises Heather, when hopefully Old Towners will sense something else in common with those Bavarian villagers in 1634.
The Old Town Procession of Witness may be viewed live on the Old Town Parish Facebook Page on Good Friday. The whole event may be viewed as one sequence after 6 a.m. (only from Easter Day) on You Tube ( https://youtu.be/gUk-QlLjRSA ).
In Lewes, hopes for resurrecting the Full Passion Play Performance from last year have once again been shattered by Covid. But, the organisers are making the best of a huge disappointment and invite you to listen to the plays that were put together last year capitalising on all the hard work put in. On top of this you can also tune in to BBC Sussex Sunday Breakfast to hear from some of the actors. https://www.lewespassionplay.org/