Christ's Passion and Resurrection to be recreated to the sounds of the Manchester 'Indic' music scene
BY SIMON CALDWELL
MOVE OVER Bach, Mozart and Stravinsky: a modern new musical version of Christ's Passion will be performed on Good Friday to the sound of popular music.
The Manchester Passion will dramatise the final hours of the life ofJesus with music from such local groups as Oasis, Joy Division, New Order, James, the Smiths and M-People.
The play will be produced by the BBC at a cost of 100,000 and broadcast live on BBC3 from 9pm on Friday, April 14: Last week, the BBC confirmed that television actor Darren Morfitt, who featured in crime drama 55 Degrees North and The Government Inspector, the Channel 4 production about Dr David Kelly, will play the role of Jesus.
Bez. a dancer and maracas shaker with 1990s band Happy Mondays, and a winner of Celebrity Big Brother, will play the rule of Barabbas, while Nicholas Bailey, who played Dr Anthony Trueman in Eastenders, will play St Peter.
Judas will be played by Tim Booth. the lead singer of James, a Manchester band popular throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
The production will be presented by Keith Allen, an actor who played the boss of London Records in the film 24 Hour Party People.
The Passion will begin in the city's red-light and gay district where the character playing Jesus will sing "Love Will Tear Us Apart" by Joy Division, a punk hand from the late 1970s, during a reenactment of the Last Supper.
The character of Judas, about to betray Jesus, will then sing "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" by 1980s band The Smiths. The characters, dressed in contemporary fashions, will then slowly make their way to Albert Square in the city centre.
On the way, Jesus will sing "Sit Down" by the band James as he urges the Apostles to sit on a street wall during a scene recreating his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.
As Jesus is arrested by characters dressed as British police officers, he and Judas will perform a duet of "Blue Monday" by New Order which begins: "How does it feel to treat me like you do, when you lay your hands upon me?"
The performers will then carry a 25ft cross into the square where the trial of Jesus will be accompanied by a rendition of Oasis's "Wonderwall", a song which contains the line: "I said maybe you're gonna be the one who saves me."
A character of the Virgin Mary will sing "You've Got 'lb Search For the Hero", by M-People, as she stands at the foot of the cross.
Finally, Jesus will emerge on the roof of Manchester Town Hall, which dominates the square. to symbolise his Resurrection, as "Wonderwall" is sung for a second time.
"I would never have thought that I would play Jesus," said Mr Morfitt. "It's an interesting journey to interpret the role. It's not just a case of having flowing locks and a white gown; it's not just a case of looking 'holy'.
"It's more about finding a truthful way of expressing thought processes and emotion. And the fact that it's live and at street level is pretty full on — anything could happen."
The songs will be accompanied by a 16-piece string orchestra. arranged by Philip Sheppard, Professor of Cello at London's Royal Academy of Music. "I've stripped out all the guitars and drums," Prof Sheppard said. "The songs will be played by a string orchestra with choral singing and 1 hope the result will be deeply moving. The lyrics of the original pop songs are very fitting for the biblical story."
A BBC spokesman said that the "contemporary retelling" of the biblical account of the death of Christ took its "inspiration from the way Bach and other composers fused music and the Passion story", This was echoed by Adam Kemp, commissioning editor for arts, who said he was "excited" by the possibility of introducing a new audience to the rich history of the Passion plays.
"We're looking forward to involving the people of Manchester in this moving live event and hopefully encouraging them to look on familiar songs with fresh eyes," he said.
The production has been criticised by some Christian groups because of the sex and drugs that were often associated with the Manchester music scene over the last 30 years.
Furthermore Ian Curtis, the lead singer of Joy Division, a band which took its name from a euphemism SS guards gave to concentration camp brothels, committed suicide in 1980 at the age of 23 amid the collapse of his marriage.
His widow, Deborah, later had the words "Love Will Tear Us Apart" engraved on his headstone.
The event, however, has the broad support of the mainstream churches, including the Catholic Diocese of Salford.
Bishop Terence Brain ,of Salford is planning to meet the producers of the play and Canon Denis Clinch, parish priest of St Mary's, Manchester's "hidden gem", near Albert Square, said he had already received assurances from them.
"From what they [the producers] said it seems to me that they are really aiming to bring a lot of young people into contact with the Gospel truth about the Passion of Our Lord," said Fr Clinch.
"They want them to be touched by the Passion which they will graphically illustrate in the way they described."
Fr Michael Walsh, spokesman for the diocese, said that "our general attitude is to support the production".
"It looks very interesting," he said. "It seems to me to be in the tradition of mystery plays. Our approach is to say that if it gets people interested in the Passion and Resurrection it sounds positive to us."
He added: "It is aimed at younger people, the 16 to 30 age group. It wouldn't suit everybody but we are certainly not against it."