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Easter passion drama played out to large crowds on streets of Norwich

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The large crowds, which packed out Hay Hill, were mesmerised by the rabble-rousing of Emily Feltham as Mary Magdalene atop a plinth. Local drummers and chanting created a carnival atmosphere as the throng eagerly joined the Palm Sunday procession following Freddy Goymer, as Jesus, on a bike up to Millennium Plain.

The modern-day drama, recalling historic events 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem, continued to unfold in front of the Forum, with the Last Supper – featuring fish and chips from Norwich Market – and the poignant betrayal of Jesus by Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane.

The arrest of Jesus by riot shield-carrying militants and his trial, and sentence to death by crucifixion by Pontius Pilate, took place in front of jeering crowds, including the Norwich-based community cast led by Rachel Hobson.

Some were shocked and many others left in tears by the portrayal of Jesus carrying his cross and then being tied to it, along with two convicted criminals either side of him.

As a dead Jesus was carried away, the crowds were directed inside St Peter Mancroft to see the last scene. The group of stunned and dispirited disciples were transformed when Mary Magdalene said she had seen Jesus come back from the dead. Disciples Thomas, Peter and John were amazed when the resurrected Jesus appeared at the back of the church to loud cheers from a packed audience.

Jesus’ triumph over death was acclaimed by all and then celebrated in style by a Norfolk Gospel choir and band, led by Heather Land, who sang Great is He and Oh Happy Day as the audience stood up to clap and sing along, before giving a standing ovation.

The one-off event was staged by Celebrate Norfolk with Saltmine Theatre Company and members of dozens of Norwich churches after being delayed last year by the Covid pandemic.

Organiser Keith Morris said: “We were overwhelmed with the response from the many hundreds who joined us, exceeding our expectations. They packed out St Peter Mancroft church for the final scene each time and we even had to put on an extra performance to make sure everyone got to see the dramatic final act and enjoy the music and singing from our wonderful community choir and band, formed just for this occasion. 

“It was a major undertaking over two years to stage but it was well worth the effort to see how engaged so many people were when the Easter story of Jesus was brought to life right in front and among them.”

Co-organiser, the Revd Canon Madeline Light, said: “People were visibly moved, some by the crucifixion, others by the joy of the disciples as they met the risen Jesus. It was so realistic that a group of young men checked with a steward whether the guys on the crosses were OK and whether they needed to call the police.

“This story is a drama that changed the course of history and it was a joy to see it portrayed in a way that helps us engage with the reality of it rather than just hear or read  it only using words.”

Norwich-born actor Freddy Goymer, who played Jesus, said: “It was a big responsibility to play Jesus and bring a bit of who I know and believe the Son of God to be as the gospel story is very close to my heart. I hope I managed to convey the heart and message of Jesus through the performance.”

Passion Play script-writer, Emily Feltham, who played Mary Magdalene, said: “Our vision was to tell the story of Jesus in a contemporary way. We tried to imagine that if he was alive in Norwich today what would he be doing, who would he be talking to, what kinds of things would he be saying, who would he be challenging.”

Article originally appeared in Network Norfolk, photo is courtesy of Keith Morris via Network Norfolk.