Thursday, 28 May 2015

Manchester Passion (2006)

Passion plays, the staged reconstructions of Christ's last hours, have been a ritual tradition of drama and song performed in Christian countries during Easter for centuries. In Gouda on Good Friday, 2011 a Dutch adaptation of The Passion, featuring well known Dutch language songs was broadcast on TV and has proved so successful that it has become an annual event ever since...but it all started, of course, in Manchester in 2006 with BBC3's Manchester Passion.



It's easy to dismiss something like Manchester Passion. With society at its most secular any attempt to celebrate traditional Christian values or approach the stories we have been told since childhood anew from an intelligent, contemporary stance has often been met with derision. It's a great shame really because, whilst I am not religious (I consider myself either agnostic or atheist depending on what mood you catch me in) the practice of faith and the stories told therein fascinates me. Manchester Passion sought to tell the story of Christ's betrayal and crucifixation live in the heart of the North West city on the evening of Good Friday April 14th via the songs that originated in that city; Morrissey, The Smiths, New Order, Joy Division, The Stone Roses, Oasis, James, M People and Robbie Williams provided the soundtrack to the key moments in Christ's final hours sung by an eclectic cast including Darren Morfitt as Christ, Keith Allen as the host and as Pilate and James frontman Tim Booth as Judas Iscariot.  



In between these dramatisations, cameras followed the procession of a giant specially made illuminated cross as it made its way from one end of the city to the other, with then North West Tonight anchor and reporter Ranvir Singh (now known nationally after ITV poached her for Daybreak and latterly Good Morning Britain) interviewing those accompanying it.



It's a great spectacle and, as a live event, was pretty flawless. Yes it's a teensy bit naff in places but that's perhaps to be expected. Through strong performances and those songs that set Manchester apart you can actually reconsider the stories that bored you during RE at school in a similar thought provoking yet entertaining manner as in Stewart Lee's excellent show What Would Judas Do? I defy anyone not to feel their spirit soar a little upon seeing Morfitt standing at the Town Hall clock tower singing 'I Am The Resurrection' to the wrapped audience down below in Albert Square.


Look out for Tony Wilson hovering by the burger van and Shameless star Chris Bisson as the ''Shameless criminal Barabbas'' Bez from the Happy Mondays was set to appear as a criminal in the van on the way to Pilate but bottled out at the last moment (he appears in the trails I believe) to be replaced by a Liam-alike. The whole thing is available to watch on YouTube.


At Christmas 2007, a Capital of Culture awarded Liverpool sought to tell the story of Christ's birth along similar lines with The Liverpool Nativity but that was shite and had more to do with Liverpool and its winning bid than it did with religion and so it has rightly been forgotten and consigned to the vaults. Unfortunately it's failure has meant that, unlike Holland, no such revivals of The Passion has occurred since - though Michael Sheen performed a 72 hour Passion in his hometown of Port Talbot, highlights of which appeared on BBC Wales and was similarly effective.

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