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Saturday, April 11, 2015


(Jesus (Denzil Deane) and his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane
the night before the crucifixion)

Big spectacular production presented with passion and commitment by over 130 amateur actors. (Review by Keith Millar)

The Durban Catholic Players Guild in association with the Playhouse Company is currently presenting the 14th edition of the Passion Play in the Playhouse Drama.

The Durban Passion Play was first performed in 1952 after permission was obtained from the Major and people of the town of Oberammergau in Bavaria for the Durban Catholic Players Guild to stage an abridged version of their world famous play. It has been staged every five years since then.

The Passion Play, which is dramatisation of Jesus Christ’s last days on earth, is undoubtedly an important event on the Durban’s religious and arts calendars. Far more than just a stage production, it is, in fact, an extraordinary community endeavour.

The cast consists of over 130 amateur actors from all religious denominations who volunteer their services and receive no remuneration at all. This includes a seven-month rehearsal period and 24 performances. The age of the performers ranges from pre-schoolers to the oldest performer who is the 89 year old Desmond Brock, who plays Barabbas. It is also a family event with several instances of more than one member of the same family taking part. Also of note is the number of times many of the participants have appeared in one or more previous Passion Plays.

Passion is the key word - and it is the passion shown by all the performers who take the opportunity to reaffirm their own commitment to the Lord, and to be part of a collective testimony of their faith which is the driving force behind this remarkable production.

Obviously in a production such as this the quality of performances varies greatly. But everyone gives their all for a common cause and I feel it would not be fair to single out individuals.

The production team, also all volunteers, need a special mention for tackling this ambitious production. Under the leadership of directors Dawn Haynes and Tanya Conradie, they have succeeded in keeping The Durban Passion Play alive. A special mention must go to those responsible for all the wonderfully authentic costumes which added much to the production.

The production itself is an epic with many mass scenes which bring to mind biblical movies. Full use is made of all the technical wizardry available in a professional theatre such as the Playhouse Drama. A revolving stage, along with, sumptuous drops transfer the scene to locations as varied as the courtyard of Simon’s house in Bethany, The Temple Court, Gethsemane, King Herod’s court, Pontius Pilate’s palace, and  Calvary in a matter of moments. There is also the benefit of excellent lighting and sound – although I did think the musical sound track lacked a bit in dynamic range.

While I feel that I am not qualified to comment on the content of The Durban Passion Play, it remains a big spectacular production which will appeal to anyone who wants to be reminded of the meaning of Easter.

The Durban Passion Play runs in the Playhouse Drama Theatre until April 19. Shows are at 19h30 Tuesdays to Sundays with a 14h30 matinée on Sundays. There is a special performance for the hearing impaired at 14h30 on April 12.

Tickets R40, R60 and R80 booked through Computicket. – Keith Millar