Edinburgh's 'Easter Play' to reflect impact of refugee crisis

It is an event which has drawn thousands to Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh for an open-air dramatisation of the story of Easter.

But when the event returns to the historic park on Saturday afternoon there will be an unmistakable extra poignancy about the performance.

The “Passion Play” was already due to be reimagined as a story focusing on a group of displaced people newly-arrived in a foreign city, with their belongings packed into whatever bags they can carry, long before the invasion of Ukraine.

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But the production, entitled Hope Rises, has been rewritten to reflect the backdrop of the escalating humanitarian crisis.

Luke Rowe will be playing Jesus in this month's open-air production of the 'Easter Story' in Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh. Picture: Colin Hattersley

And the organisers of the free theatre show believe this year’s production will show the Easter story is as relevant as ever.

The production, which will be live-streamed from the gardens, will explore how each character has been left with nothing except their stories of encountering Jesus and the hope he has given him.

The Edinburgh Easter Play was launched by a team of volunteers in 2005 and has attracted crowds of up to 3000, with the production reworked every year.

Co-produced by the Edinburgh-based company Cutting Edge Theatre and the Princes Street Easter Play Trust, it took a break in 2019 and was unable to be staged in the following two years due to the pandemic.

The Easter Play will be performed in Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh on Saturday 16 April. Picture: Colin Hattersley

The new production will be performed by a 14-strong cast community and a professional actor and musician, Luke Wroe, a graduate of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, who will portray Jesus.

Cutting Edge Theatre’s artistic director Susanne Lofthus, who is directing the production, said last year’s humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, which was triggered by the return to power of the Taliban, had already influenced the production before Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February.

She said: “When we started looking at what we were going to do for a live show this year it just didn’t really feel right to do the traditional story.

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“We started off with the concept of a group of travelling players who turn up in a city. In Shakespeare’s time, when theatres had to be shut down because of the plague, performers would go out into market places to put on shows.

“When we started rehearsals, refugees had just started fleeing Afghanistan from the Taliban. I was seeing images on the news of people who were walking out with whatever they had been able to put into their bags. It really began to colour the play when we put it against that background.

“We then began to hear hints of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. I remember us talking about it in rehearsal and it literally happened the next day.

“When we put that background into it we felt that the modern resonances were just incredible.”Originally the script set the story in a land under oppression by the Romans 2000 years ago, but I thought we needed to take all the historical references out and that’s what we did. It just made it really strong.

“So we have a group of displaced people who have had literally 10 minutes to pack their bags and leave their homes. They have nothing else other than their own history, but begin to tell stories from their past, which tell the story of Jesus.”



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