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The Passion of Jesus in Trafalgar Square

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by Chris Henniker (subscribe)
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The Easter Holidays have always been about more than chocolate since Pagan times, as it's named after the Pagan goddess Eoster. We all know that one man changed all this, Jesus of Nazareth, and every year the story of his death and resurrection is told in Trafalgar Square.

www.passionofjesus-trafalgar.co.uk


We think we all know the story of how one man died, rose again and told the world to tell his tale, but this production by the players of the Wintershall Charitible Trust laid bare the political conflicts both between Roman and Jew and Jew against Jew for all to see. Jesus is portrayed as a populist who comes to Jerusalem on a donkey, at odds with the image of a great warrior on a white horse, but his ideas are at odds with a rabbinical caste (not class).

In laying bare the political landscape, they show all occupied peoples have had collaborators with the colonising power, which still resonates with many people even today. Whether it be the rabbis of first century Roman Palestine, or Ghandi in the 1930's, you can still see the political resonances as relevant even today, as people in the Middle East fight the same battles even now.

Only now, the idea if a Jewish state is seen as a puppet of western interests such as those of Esso & BP. Christ's eviction of the market in the temple also resonates with current political and economic trends, as the banks are seems as greedy and venal, an argument that has anti-Semitic overtones. However, this production plays these down to show that the Romans had their part to play.

Pontus Pliate is portrayed as someone who is pressed upon by lobbyng but is bound by the need to keep the peace and keep good relations with those he is sent to colonise. Since the Rabbinical caste's economic and political interests are threatened by JEsus, this production lays bare how the Roman Collaborators were the basis for the anti-Semitic idea that the Jews betrayed Christ, conveniently overlooking the fact Christ was Jewish himself.

The last supper was a Passover Seder, after all. Judas Iscariot's line, "Hail, Rabbi," is a well conceived plot device that also suggests a lover's fair well and exposes the Jews as being ridden with internal religious and political divisions that the Romans use to their advantage.

The staging used the whole of Trafalgar Square to great effect, with Christ himself commanding the high ground as he appears on the steps leading to the Gational Gallery. While this symbolises both heaven and the Mount of Olives, it adds gravitas to the message Jesus gives by suggesting the moral high ground.

Unfortunately, you had to crane your neck to see action some distance away, but you could really imagine yourself in a Mideaval production of the passion, aside from the TV crew and jumbo TV screens. That said, having to crane your neck to see them for close ups and doesn't get into way too much, but it can distract from business centre stage.

The most powerful moment was the reunion of Jesus and Mary Magdelene, which shows their love for each other and the hope of a new beginning, which is an underlying theme of Easter and the play. Since this is the story of how Christianity split from Judaism, we can see the rebirth of the world through Christ's suffering as a message of hope and joy as he overcomes death.

Although this is a plot device that is used in films like The Crow, we really see what message is intended by having the audience suspend its disbelief, but the political significance can sometimes be lost. Jesus was resisting Roman occupation, which gives hope to people under the imperialist yoke of a second chance for revolution and reconciliation.

While his disciples dressed in blue, it gave them the appearance of a street gang. Albeit one which is drumming up popular support that the Crips ( who also dress in blue) would die for.

If I had any gripe about the production, I would have had Judas Iscariot's betrayal be motivated by a need to warn people that cults of personality are dangerous, as North Korea demonstrates.

If I was staging this, I'd ask the audience whether Jesus ran the risk of establishing a personality cult and what dangers does this have for society? The story's political relevance means it adapts to any time in history, such as anywhere under the red of the British Empire. I can easily imagine it transposed to 19th century British India , exploring themes of resistance and collaboration, love and fear, forgiveness and retribution. Universal themes, but this makes the tale the greatest ever told.

Happy Easter!
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When: Good Friday
Where: Trafalgar Square
Cost: The event is free to attend.
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