Hereford & Worcester

Leominster community members take part in Passion play

Passion play rehearsal
Image caption More than 150 people were taking part (pic: Mike James)

"It's never the same and yet it's always the same."

A Herefordshire market town has taken part in another re-enactment of the Easter story. Director Sue Downey had a familiar script, but also new volunteer actors to bring "their own unique contribution".

More than 150 amateurs, aged from three to their late 80s, took to the streets of Leominster for the Good Friday passion play - but those were just the cast members.

Hundreds of people and organisations from the community were involved - acting, making sets and banners, donating sound equipment, putting up posters and carrying out other vital functions.

'Well suited'

Dating back to 1983, the event in the town has grown from three locations to 12 - and this year's cast figure is a significant increase on the 40 who acted in the last play in 2008.

Organisers said when it was first held, some felt "the narrow Elizabethan streets of old Leominster were well suited to convey a hint of the lanes in old Jerusalem".

Now, five schools provided up to 70 children for the performance - and that is particularly satisfying for Abi Jones, 25, who is Leominster born and bred.

After taking part in the play herself as a child, she now liaises with schools and is involved for the first time as an adult - leading the music in-between scenes as the procession makes its way around the town.

Image caption Actors have been rehearsing since January (pic: Mike James)

She said: "It's mostly singing and percussion, something all the crowd could join in with - nothing too complicated... so we have songs people can repeat.

"It only happens once every four years, so it's as special as the Olympics."

Men were harder to find, though. It was a "perennial problem" to get men involved for the "male-heavy story" containing disciples, Roman soldiers and crowds, the director said.

And the actor playing Jesus, Robin Haig, who had never seen a Passion play, only came on board in mid February, after organisers tracked him down while he was on holiday in New Zealand.

Roger Pitblado, 64, and his wife, Merril, 63, are heavily involved - she has the non speaking part of Mary and at the opposite end of the vocal scale, her husband is the storyteller leading the audience around the scenes.

Appeal for sheets

They returned to the area last year and Mr Pitblado said: "Being a member of the Church of England here, we both decided one of the ways to get to know people in the community was to take part in this particular event."

The costumes for the Pontius Pilate role were bought and some costumes have been hired, but mainly organisers appeal for sheets from the community made by local people.

A stretcher could not be found which was safe or authentic enough, the director said, so an actor playing a Roman soldier will carry Mr Haig playing Jesus from the cross through the crowd.

Mrs Downey, 66, added: "We felt it was important to do a [crucifixion] scene which shows the whole story."

Auditions were held in November and actors first gathered for rehearsals in January, but "one or two disciples got there on Sunday for the first time", the director said.

Various denominations came together for the procession.

Mrs Downey said for the churches in Leominster to be working together was "unheard of" 50 years ago.

She added: "Everyone's contribution is valued and equal and necessary and that's what makes it unique and special."

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