Wintershall, a theatre company based in the Surrey countryside, has been putting on their monumental play, The Passion of Jesus, in central London since 2010. The two Good Friday performances — which are free to watch — regularly attract more than 20,000 people. Wintershall says the production is "a gift to Londoners and visitors."
Epic story, staggering cast size
The show depicts the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus by the Romans — before he miraculously rises from the dead on Easter Sunday. Ambitious staging features scores of Roman centurions, branch-waving 'crowds', and the erection of three crucifixes.
Described as 'electric' and 'moving', the show is mic-ed up, with large screens placed around Trafalgar Square, broadcasting the two 90-minute performances. Interpreters provide British Sign Language.
The Passion of Jesus also features live animals; 'Pontius Pilate' rides into the Square on horseback ("George loves the attention of the crowds," we're told; presumably George is the horse). A donkey named Chester will also appear. Experienced handlers accompany the animals, ensuring everything's safe and comfortable for them.
A new Jesus
The production has developed a considerable reputation and following since its London premiere 12 years ago. In 2011 the Queen awarded the cast and crew the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service.
This was a significant moment for Wintershall, coming from humble beginnings. Peter Hutley founded the volunteer group in his home in 1989, initially producing performances inside an 18th century barn behind the house.
Professional actor James Burke-Dunsmore played the lead role of Jesus for Wintershall's for almost quarter of a century, but is replaced in 2023 by another actor. Burke-Dunsmore told us in 2019 that he maintained his hair and beard year-round: "It saves a fortune in razors."
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan has said of the event: "For more than a decade, The Passion of Jesus has brought together people from all backgrounds with its lasting message of compassion and courage. It has been an inspiration and source of strength to millions."
Wintershall's goal is to have the show performed across the UK every year on Good Friday, and they're encouraging other groups to organise their own productions.