Manchester Passion

Easter weekend finds The Passion in Manchester, from Streetwise Opera and The Sixteen, supported by HOME.

The Passion is a seventy minute abridged version of Bach’s iconic oratorio St Matthew Passion, including a new ‘resurrection’ finale by celebrated composer Sir James MacMillan.  Staged in Manchester’s historical Campfield Market, and starring performers who have experienced homelessness alongside a world-renowned choir and ensemble, this production is directed by award-winning director Penny Woolcock.

I’ve never seen the Passion before, so this review takes what I saw at face value.  And that’s what a performance should be; how does this performance make you feel at this moment?  It starts slowly, a van reversing from the rear door, then the sides opening to reveal the disciples.  The High Priests dress and position themselves on a jury like stage to one side.  The orchestra sit centre stage in a recessed pit, whilst ‘The Sixteen’ sing from stages either side.  Throughout the performance the role of Jesus is taken by eight successive actors, symbolising how Jesus represents everyone; this in itself works surprisingly well.  Initially it’s very static, but as it develops, the performers move into the audience, and the audience moves around them.  We become part of the setting, a crowd watching expectantly.  A bit more audience movement would have helped; it was all a bit polite.

The music works well in the space, both as an orchestra and when individual musicians support the action in the crowd.  The voices from the choir formed by The Sixteen, and the individual soloists, are first class and build the emotional impact.

Photos by Graeme Cooper

Photos by Graeme Cooper

By combining performers from different backgrounds, the piece develops a real honesty and accessibility.  There is very little distance, either physically or psychologically, between the audience and the cast.  At the same time, three giant screens broadcast the action, so we are always close to the narrative.  I don’t often mention directors, but the direction on this performance is simply astounding.  To move this many performers through the audience in a convincing way, to turn this building in the course of the performance from a cold shell into a vibrant, emotional mass of people, to combine the disparate talents together in such a seamless way.  This is the real achievement here, to create a sense of place and belonging, to make the audience part of the action, craning to see what is happening, watching everyone to see who will emerge next.

The Passion is at Campfield Market on 25 – 26 March and on BBC4 at 7pm on Easter Sunday.

The Booth Centre do amazing work; my daughter persuaded me to support them two years ago, after a visit, and I do.  You should too.  www.boothcentre.org.uk

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

One Response to “Manchester Passion”

  1. Hi, Dave. I bumped into David Weston (‘Fusebox’) at the RX Theatre’s SHOW & TELL Studio exhibition recently. He kindly passed on your blog reference because I confided in him I am more than a bit ignorant re blogs, Twitter etc. He thought I might start with someone’s I know – yours! Very interesting!
    Shirley XXX.

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