The first Easter Play was performed in Princes Street Gardens in 2005 on the Saturday of Easter weekend. Hundreds of people contributed their time and skills to make it happen, and over 3,200 people came to watch, despite somewhat inclement weather!
The creative team was led by Suzanne Lofthus, who has directed the Easter Play almost every year since, working with writer Kamala Santos and actors Chris Duffy, Duncan Rennie and Sam Rowe in the role of Jesus.
Some of the cast and crew had worked on The Life of Jesus Christ, which was performed for several years on the grounds of Dundas Castle near Edinburgh.
As the tradition of performing Mystery Plays or Passion Plays was being revived around the world, Edinburgh, despite its reputation for celebrating arts and culture, had few events happening at Easter. It was believed an outdoor play commemorating the Passion of Christ would appeal to the Christian and wider communities.
Nine people from five churches in Edinburgh came together to form a steering group to make the play happen, and it was considered a great success. The Edinburgh Easter Play (as it came to be known) went on to be performed annually in the dramatic setting of Princes Street Gardens for the next five years. In 2007, the cast of ‘The Life of Jesus Christ’ joined the Easter Play cast for a special production enjoyed by an audience of about 5000. Duncan Rennie took over the role of Jesus that year, and continued to work with the Easter Play until 2018.
New ways to tell an old story
Easter Play director Suzanne Lofthus is passionate about finding new ways to tell the Easter story, and make its message come alive for all who hear it. In 2013, a completely new production, CrossWords, featured monologues written by a variety of different writers. This was inspired when Suzanne read a monologue for the character of Judas written by a prisoner in Angola State Prison in Louisiana. Writers from Scotland and elsewhere were inspired to explore other characters in the story.
The following year, the playwright Rob Drummond, was commissioned to write The Edinburgh Passion, a radical contemporary version of the story set in a newly independent Scotland, which was acclaimed by critics and audiences. In 2015, the production was On The Edge, exploring the story from the perspective of characters on the fringes of the story, with a particular emphasis on the women, mentioned in the Gospels but rarely given a voice.
2017 brought a return to a traditional large-scale passion play with a script by Kamala Santos performed in traditional costume on a stunningly bright day. In 2018, the cast devised their own script, working with the director in rehearsals to tell the stories of their characters.
We did not stage a production in 2019, and in 2020 and 2021 live productions were postponed due to coronavirus. However, 2021’s play, ’Saturday’ was redeveloped as an audio play and made available online. In 2022, we returned to the fast paced version of the story, ‘Hope Rises’ that we had produced in 2018 and that was also performed inside as part of the Sacred Arts Festival in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. In 2023 we are returning to the traditional version of the story, last performed in 2017 but with some twists!