A Passion Play
by Kate Miller
Directed by Trevor Michael Georges
Original music by Harold Chaplin
and Katie Seaton
Performed 3 and 4 April 2015
"First light. Here it comes. Tomorrow."
Yesh has come to the city on the edge. Soon the powers are closing in and one of his friends begins to doubt. There is just enough time for a last takeaway curry before Yesh must face what he was born to do.
First Light, a compelling new Passion Play by Hertford playwright Kate Miller, premiered at Hertford St Andrew's in Holy Week 2015. Directed by National Theatre actor Trevor Michael Georges, it brought together a 2000-year-old story with the dreams, fears and struggles of 21st-Century Britain.
Featuring a cast of professional actors and Hertfordshire people, with original music created by Hertford musicians, First Light was a fresh and surprising look at the last days of Jesus' life - a bold re-imagining of the events of Easter from a modern perspective.
Please click here for a full cast list and credits
It was a great privilege to welcome hundreds of people to St Andrew's for the world premiere of First Light: A Passion Play for Hertford.
The play began life as a germ of an idea shared between myself, Julia (the producer), Kate (the writer), and artistic director of Hertford Theatre Rhys Thomas. We wanted to create a home-grown contemporary retelling of the Passion story, set within a similar political and religious context to that of 1st-Century Palestine, which drew on the great universal themes of love and loss.
A dramatic reading of the first draft of Act 1 took place at St Andrew's during Holy Week of 2013. Momentum grew and we were thrilled to host the play in its entirety this Easter, with original music by local composers Katie Seaton and Harold Chaplin and under the wonderful direction of Trevor Georges. We are incredibly grateful and indebted to the many Hertford folk who have helped make the production possible.
Our hope is that the reimagining of a story we know so well will inspire us to engage in a new way with what the Passion of Christ might mean for us today.
Vicar of St Andrew's
First Light: a Passion Play for Hertford - a review by Charles Ledsam
First Light was written by Kate Miller and was performed by mainly professional actors who live in Hertfordshire. It was produced by Julia Hallawell and directed by Trevor Georges, both of whom are professional actors, who have worshipped at St Andrew’s. The standard of performances was extremely high and many of us found the modern 'take' on the well-known Easter story very moving. John Holden-White’s performance as Yeshua was exceptional.
The opening scene is at the entrance to the Temple and an officious man in a suit with dark glasses acts as the security man/ bouncer. He will only admit those dressed up and looking important. Yeshua and his friends arrive. Soon we become aware that we too are in the Temple and witness Yeshua’s anger, hurling a table and turning out the money lenders and salesmen. We are fully involved. This could easily be 2015.
A modern rendition of the Beatitudes and the importance of being inclusive and welcoming of those who are homeless, suffering from HIV, drug addicts were particularly moving. The crucifixion, the portrayal of both Peter and Judas Iscariot were both effective.
As the story unfolded, simple but effective stage changes took place with subtle original music written by our own Harold Chaplin and Katie Seaton.
Modern aspects, such as a commuter on Hertford North Station sharing her thoughts and worries, were linked with the well known story. The betrayal by Peter was extremely effective involving the use of a cockerel as the ringtone on mobile phones.
Imaginative use was made of the various doors and aisles of the church especially for Yeshua dragging his cross on his way to be crucified.
At the very end of the Play, the cast assembled and offered a strong message to each person there, that they were real people and that Jesus lives in each one who believes and that we need to trust Him fully.
The second and third performances attracted an audience of around 150 to each… a rather more manageable number for a theatre performance. There had been concern that St Andrew’s was closed during Holy week for rehearsals but for many, especially on Good Friday, First Light was a new and refreshing way of living Christ’s last few days in a most vivid way.
Thanks must go to everyone concerned from inception until the performances were over and the church put back into order for the Easter Sunday services.
A final thought, several friends who are not worshippers at St Andrew’s, commented on how powerful this play was and how moved they had been at this modern retelling…as indeed were some of the “non church” cast including the officious man in the dark glasses, who turned out to be one of our neighbours!
Comment from the playwright, Kate Miller, to the actors:
The Passion Play has been part of my life for nearly three years now and there were many times when I thought it wouldn't happen. But in the end it seems to have happened at the right time and with the right group of people. You really made it your own and turned it into something fantastic.
For me, the measure of a production is whether it reaches its audience and I hope you all know that you did that in a very deep way. There was definitely something special happening among you all for you to have touched people like that.
Comments from the actors and backstage crew:
To the professional actors, thank you for your consistently high standards and to our amateur friends, as a professional it's often easy to forget why we choose this career in the first place. It's for the love and the thrill of performing, you guys helped remind me of that. Thank you. Your ability and contribution to this production should never be underestimated. Also, thank you to the Christians for putting up with a heretic like me for three weeks!
As a Christian (although an unconventional one), I really enjoyed working on the play myself as it really affirmed my own faith and I also had some very insightful conversations with you all, regardless of what you believe. It has been special for a lot of people it seems. I have taken an awful lot from it and met some stunning human beings in the process.
Wow! What an amazing experience and what a stunning group of people. I can't recall a situation when I've worked so closely with a group of new acquaintances and had admiration for every single one of them, so I truly thank you all.
I feel very privileged to have been part of this wonderful, desultory, ragtag group, which brought Kate's fantastic play to life through Trevor's inspiration and tireless dedication. I popped in to St Andrew’s at lunchtime and it was great to see Philippa, but the place seemed very empty without the rest of you. I donated a carton of custard to the Foodbank box at the back of the church. Just hope the recipient has some scissors!
Editorial note: the reference to scissors will be understood by those who were able to see the play. Ask Penny, Brenda, Wayne or Phil if you wish to be enlightened.
It was lovely on Sunday morning to be part of the huge 'buzz' of comments from those who had been to the Passion Play and were mightily impressed and moved - I think I was grinning like the 'Cheshire Cat' for the whole service! From ‘Our’ Brenda Hobbs, the major contributor to Props
Well done to everyone for being part of something which we thought was very special, moving and memorable. For me the highlight was the modern take on the Beatitudes.
Another great thing is that it brought into St Andrew's quite a lot of people who had never stepped in before! The thoughtful last five minutes was quite something too.
I'd just like to say a big thank you to all who contributed to a wonderful evening on Good Friday when St Andrew's was packed to the rafters to see the first performance of the Passion Play, 'First Light'. A well-known story, truthfully retold in modern times with 'cameo' parts of the single mother using the Foodbank and the redundant City worker, slotted in to bring significance for today. All those who took part as actors, writers, musicians, behind the scenes and doing one of the many jobs needed to put on such an event need to be congratulated as their hard work made for a very moving experience. One I was pleased to share with so many.
This was a very ‘different’ production, avoiding traditional portrayal of both characters and settings. The many clever modern touches gave one the opportunity to rethink the story and the time in which God has chosen to send his son to earth. The ‘cock crow’ ringtone brought home the very different culture of the Holy Land circa 30 AD – no phones, radio, TV or social media, and how the more remarkable it was that the Christian message spread at all. The electrocution on the cross reflected the sad fact that after 2000 years, the ‘state’ still kills the guilty and often the innocent and in the most inhumane way.
The silent movement of souls in hell was unrelenting and only broken by the powerful dialogue between Judas and Yeshua, whose message was that no one was condemned to everlasting damnation.
In modern dress, the disciples looked so ‘ordinary’, youthful and naïve, but it underlined the miracle that this small number of people understood whom Yeshua was and spread the message. Seeing Rome today with all the panoply, it is difficult to believe that this simple Peter was the first Pope, the rock on whom the church was built.
A non-church-goer (invited by one of our congregation) said: I only came to support the project but I was moved and impressed.
Two non-church-going friends thought it a wonderful production and were 'blown away' by the modern version of the Beatitudes - saying they should be more widely available.
A non-churchgoing teenage lad said: 'It made me look at the story in a completely different light'.
I have to admit, I felt somewhat sceptical about seeing the Passion Play. However, my doubts were soon dispersed as the play unfolded, and we watched the drama of Holy Week being re-enacted before our eyes. The skill and sincerity of the actors (many of them committed Christians) brought the whole story to life. The atmosphere in the church was electrifying, and the audience, which included several young children, was stunned into silence, and transfixed as each event emerged. Emotions of excitement, horror, fear and elation were all experienced in a truly impressive and unforgettable production.
Comments on Twitter:
'First Light' a Passion Play written 'for Hertford' by Kate Miller just stays in the mind of hundreds who witnessed Trevor Georges' production.
Still living with the mighty impact of the Passion Play drama at Hertford St Andrew yesterday. 'First Light' ... true to XnFaith; for 2015.
Congratulations to all involved in @firstlight Play at Hertford's St Andrew's Church. A very powerful production.
Second half of @firstlightPlay about to start. The tension is crackling. Can it get better than Part 1?
Easter Saturday afternoon last minute decision to go see @firstlightPlay. Powerful stuff. Good job all.
Absolutely brilliant Passion Play @ StAndrews Church. Two performances tomorrow. Do not miss!
Went to First Light, a Passion Play for Hertford, last night. thank you @firstlightPlay for an extraordinary evening, utterly compelling.
First Light passion play a must see production. Hertford St Andrew full to bursting this evening.
Just paused for the interval. Blown away! @firstlightPlay Hertford
All photos by Simon Annand
Read the talk that was given by Rev. Alan Stewart at an event held shortly after Easter to focus on this difficult question