On Thursday night, I took our young people to see the “glasgow passion” (a modern retelling of the passion of Jesus set in Glasgow) in George Square, Glasgow and I thought I would share a few thoughts about it. I’ve seen a number of modern retellings, from the South Africa set “Son of Man” to the outdoor passion play in Manchester a few years ago. This production shared more than a passing resemblance to the Manchester play with its use of pop songs and outdoor city centre setting.
Rather than simply saying whether the play was successful or not, I will instead focus on three areas: story, setting and acting.
From experience, I know how hard it it to translate the story of Jesus into a modern setting because the gospel of Jesus is culturally bound. The events and characters in the story are time and culture specific. The issues that Jesus grapples with are the issues of first century palestine. I feel that the writers of the ‘glasgow passion’ did a reasonable job of updating the story.
Herod and (Mc)Caiaphas were recast as politicans campaigning for re-election amidst allegations of corruption. So far, so good. This idea worked well as it gave them a reason for getting rid of Jesus. They wanted the power and so when a new political candidate rises up, they will do anything to stop him.
They also introduce a new terrorism act which works as a plot device to have Jesus arrested and tried. Having Jesus labelled a terrorist works well.
Translating the disciples was always going to be difficult and I think they do an adequate job but as is often the case with these productions, many of the characters aren’t given much to do and disappear into the background. It would have been better to reduce the numbers of disciples to three our four to make them more rounded.
My biggest gripe with the story is the ending. For most of the running time, the writers are keen to show that this is modern day Glasgow. That this is what would happen if Jesus walked around now. But by trying to be faithful to the gospel text, they make a huge mistake. After Jesus is arrested, he is sentenced to death by lethal injection.
That is not modern day Glasgow.
In that one act, the story loses its grip on reality. To add insult, the execution of Jesus is carried out publically. This would not happen.
It would have been better to have Jesus arrested and for Herod or Caiaphas to have paid another inmate to have killed him whilst in prison. Yes, the death wouldn’t have been public but it would have made more sense and would have fit better with the modern day setting.
An outdoor play, in October, is a difficult thing to pull off. It was very cold on Thursday night and many of our young people lost interest because of this. In order to keep people focused on the story, rather than the temperature, it has to be more engaging and unfortunately the story sagged in the middle.
There were four stages (i think) dotted around George Square and the audience had to turn to keep up with the action (or just watch the giant screens). The problem with this set up is that you waste a minute or so trying to work out where the actors are speaking from. It would have been better to have had the four stages at the front but that is a small gripe.
The main players: Duncan Rennie, Alan McHugh, Derek Munn and Mike Tibbetts played their parts well and Rennie did a great job of bringing real depth to the character of Jesus. The rest of the cast were a mixed bag and there was some truly terrible and amateur acting that threatened to derail the entire production.
Overall, it was worth seeing and was a good experiment. I think if it were to happen again, some of these issues would need to be looked at if it were to be more successful.