THE names of the characters may be instantly recognisable and there is something very familiar about the storyline.
But the open-air play to be staged in the heart of Edinburgh on Easter Saturday will be far removed from the classic story charting the last days of Christ.
The story is to be retold against the background of a nation in turmoil over a looming referendum – in an alternate reality version of modern-day Scotland where mass unrest under Herod’s weakening grip has become the norm.
But organisers insist they are making strenuous efforts to ensure Jesus is not portrayed as a supporter of Scottish independence and say that the character will remain above politics.
It is hoped that thousands of people will turn out in Princes Street Gardens for the free promenade performance of the modern version of The Passion Play, set more than 2,000 years on from the traditional version.
In The Edinburgh Passion, the political power-plays in the Bible will be updated to feature media monitoring, spin doctors, financial backstabbing and even lethal injections to deal with the “dangerous insurgent” and his radical ideas.
With the corrupt leadership of the country struggling to maintain its grip on power, amid angry demonstrations over the “collapse of society”, and Scotland in the grip of a crime wave, the rise of Jesus is seen as a major threat to desperate political efforts to maintain the status quo.
The producers – who are still looking for their modern-day Judas – admit the present-day political turmoil has influenced the show, which is said to be set “in the near future” in Scotland.
Director Suzanne Lofthus, who has overseen a number of traditional Easter plays in Edinburgh, said: “We’ve had as many as 4,500 people along in the past but the numbers were tailing off a bit and we wanted to do something that would generate a bit more interest. The story of Jesus is a story for all times, as relevant today as it was 2,000 years ago.
“We wanted to ask the question: if Jesus was around today, what would that look like? And about 20 years from now in a post-referendum Scotland, what would Jesus say and do?
“I don’t see how it is going to be ‘too political’, but when you look at the actual words of Jesus he was incredibly radical. But we are being careful to ensure it is not about anyone being in favour or against Scottish independence.
“It is set in Edinburgh, but at a time of huge unrest on the streets, when overnight trials have been brought in by the country’s leadership and the death penalty has been reintroduced to try to restore order.”
The Edinburgh Passion is the work of one of Scotland’s leading playwrights, Rob Drummond, who won plaudits last year for Quiz Show, a stage production partly inspired by the Jimmy Savile scandal.
He said: “The politics are all there in the Bible. Herod is wanting to cling on to power, he is under a lot of pressure from Rome to keep control of his area. His motives for having Jesus killed are very political.
“We all think we know the story, but it’s only when you read the source materials that you realise how relevant a lot of the politics are.
“But I always feel the best way to talk about something is not to talk about it. People just glaze over when you try to lecture them about politics. At the end of the day, the story is the most important thing.”
Duncan Rennie, 37, who will play Jesus in The Edinburgh Passion for Cutting Edge Theatre, told The Scotsman: “If people come along to this expecting a traditional telling of the Easter story they are going to get a very different angle. It’s a play for modern times. There is a political hinge to the way the story has been written, but it’s the story that there always is. All the main elements will be in there.”