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Monday, March 20, 2023



(Above: Publicity photo taken ahead of the 2020 production by Harry Lock)

The Durban Catholic Players’ Guild are delighted to present the 15th Durban Passion Play, fondly known as the “Oberammergau of Africa” at the Playhouse Drama Theatre from April 6 to 16 for a 14-performance season over Easter.

The Passion Play strives to restore the true meaning of Easter. It is an epic scale dramatic production depicting Jesus' Passion, covering the final period of his life from his visit to Jerusalem to his execution by crucifixion and ending with the Resurrection. It is performed by a large cast who volunteer their time and skills as part of their Lenten preparations. The play involves seven months of commitment from a 130-plus cast who receive no remuneration.

The cast comprises an inter-denominational, inter-faith, multi-cultural, multi-lingual group of diverse people who vary in age from toddlers and teenagers to young adults and the more mature; able bodied and differently abled. There are also multi-generational family groups, with the older members having performed on multiple occasions (some of the cast members have performed in more than eight productions - which means they have been performing for more than 40 years!) and the younger performing in their first Passion Play.

This year Christus is being performed by Dale Collings - a new cast member who was scheduled to perform the Christ role in 2020. The role of Madonna is being shared by Isabel Mateus and Bianca Sandiah.

This year, there are larger-than-life animals who join the cast – all beautifully handmade and rendered by Edox Gerard.

The play is directed by Dawn Haynes and Jessica Wardle who have been working on the script and training the actors for more than 18 months. Both agree that the hard work and hundreds of hours are well worth it!

The 15th version of the Passion Play was originally scheduled for Easter 2020, but at the last minute – literally days before scheduled opening – the run had to be cancelled due to the declaration of hard lockdown in response to Covid. The preparation process started in August 2019. The cast of 125 volunteers have given 24 Sundays, 25 Thursdays, two full weekends and endless hours in-between – probably in excess of 200 hours each – around 135,000 hours in total. The management committee probably put in twice the number of hours, and the directors have invested probably around 500 hours each - in addition to rehearsal time -– all for no financial reward.

Now that Lockdown is over, the cast have re-assembled and rehearsals have continued, allowing the production to be ready for Easter 2023.

The first Passion Play in Durban was performed in 1952, when the mayor and community of Oberammergau in Bavaria granted special permission to the Durban Catholic Players’ Guild to stage an abridged version of their world-famous production. What was first enacted in 1634 in Oberammergau was used in Durban as a means of celebrating the centenary of the arrival of the missionary Oblate priests of Mary Immaculate, who arrived in South Africa in 1852.

That first play, enacted at the Greyville Racecourse, was so successful that Durban’s Father Noel Coughlan travelled to Bavaria to gain permission for the Durban version of the play to be staged every five years. The Oberammergau village elders willingly obliged, seeing the play as a means of witnessing to the larger population of Southern Africa: Durban would become the “Oberammergau of Africa”.

It has now been staged in Durban every five years for the past 70 years. The Durban Passion Play was staged at the Greyville Racecourse, before moving to the Durban City Hall until 1997. More recently, it has been performed at the Playhouse.

There are daytime and evening performances. Public booking is through Webtickets.

Please bring cash to the performance – a book vendor with the Denis Hurley Centre Street Lit project will be selling quality second handbooks before the show, and during interval.

Tickets R100 throughout (no concessions). Booking through Webtickets.

Block bookings is done automatically when booking at Webtickets:

20 – 49 seats: less 10% / more than 50 seats: less 20%

Larger block bookings for any show to be arranged with the Playhouse. Block Booking Queries: contact Dominic on 082 460 7677.


Performances are:

Thurs 6 April – 19h00 (opening)

Friday 7 April – 10h00 / 15h00 (Good Friday)

Saturday 8 April – 14h30 / 19h00

Sunday 9 April – 14h30 / 19h00 (Easter Sunday)

Tues 11 April – 19h00

Wed 12 April – 19h00

Thurs 13 April – 19h00

Friday 14 April – 19h00

Sat 15 April – 14h30 / 19h00

Sunday 16 April – 14h30 (final)