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A 19th Century graveyard in a North East quarry is to stage a dramatic open-air Passion Play in which the audience will be able to play a part as Jesus is led towards the Cross for his crucifixion.
The Houghton le Spring Passion Play will be staged at Houghton Hillside Cemetery in the Wearside town at 11am on Good Friday (April 6) and the audience will be encouraged to make up the crowd, jostling for a view of Jesus as he drags the Cross.
The Cemetery is in an 18th Century limestone quarry and the first graves date back to the 19th Century, with burials having stopped in the early 1970s. Today, it is a closed cemetery, which is part of St Michael’s Church in the town, part of the Diocese of Durham.
The Passion Play, which is its tenth year and was written locally, is usually performed in the church and this is the first year it will be staged in the open-air. The music is written by Stuart Clappison and the lyrics by Andy Slater; a group of musicians will accompany the event with instruments including guitars. Jesus will be played by the Reverend James Menzies, the Assistant Curator of neighbouring Hetton Lyons.
The Reverend Canon Sue Pinnington, the Rector of Houghton le Spring and the producer of the Play, said: “The Passion Play has been successfully produced in the church in recent years, but this year we are taking it outdoors for the first time. The cemetery, with its back-drop of cliffs, is a terrific ampitheatre and will create a great atmosphere. “There will be a lot of movement during the Play. The narrator and members of the cast will move around the quarry and the audience will be able to follow the story, exactly as happened when Jesus was crucified. There will be guards in modern military dress, complete with guns, who will move people away if they go too near, to give it a realistic feel.
“The whole idea is to show that the story may be 2,000 years old but it is still relevant and contemporary. People will be able to experience what it was like for those people watching the crucifixion of Jesus. There will be an edginess to the show. People will be able to accompany Jesus on his last journey. It will be a living play.”
The crucifixion scene itself will provide a reminder of the area’s historic links with quarrying and mining because it will take place in front of the Miners’ Monument, a cross which commemorates the many miners whose bodies lie in the cemetery. They include some of those who lost their lives in the Houghton Colliery Disaster of 1850 when firedamp and coal dust were accidentally ignited by a safety lamp, killing 27 miners.
The Passion Play is supported by a number of local community groups, including the Friends of Hillside Cemetery who have worked tirelessly to restore the site over recent years. Local businesses and the local council have also supported the event. More information can be obtained from www.stmichaels.hls.org.uk