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.
Jesus for the last time
Professional actor James Burke-Dunsmore plays the lead role for the 11th time, but this will be his final appearance as Jesus. He told us in 2019 that he maintains his hair and beard year-round: "It saves a fortune in razors."
The production has developed a considerable reputation and following since its 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.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan said: "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.