Havant: open air Jesus drama has audience captivated
Hundreds of people watched spellbound as Christians in Havant told the story of Jesus in an open-air play at the weekend (12-13 August).
Churchgoers from across Havant staged Jesus in the Park in Havant Park three times over the weekend – re-enacting some of Jesus’s parables, healing and miracles for crowds of passers-by.
They saw Lazarus being raised from the dead, watched as a loaf was transformed into enough bread for 5,000 people, and saw a real horse, sheep and goat used to tell well-known parables. The play ended with Jesus’s crucifixion, performed as we heard his words about the Good Shepherd laying down his life for his sheep.
Around 50 worshippers from 12 different churches across Havant, Emsworth, Leigh Park, Rowlands Castle and Waterlooville had come together for rehearsals and workshops over the past few months. In initial rehearsals, they had improvised scenes from Jesus's life under the direction of James Burke-Dunsmore, who then wrote an original script for the cast of volunteers to learn.
And the animals came from local farmers, including a sheep that had been hand-reared as a baby and a horse that had been rescued.
Bill Floyd, who played Caiaphas and worships at St John’s Church, Rowlands Castle, said: “I really enjoy acting, and it's marvellous that all the churches can come together like this.”
And Martin McGranaghan, from St Michael and All Angels RC Church in Leigh Park, said: “It gives so many people an opportunity to hear the story of Jesus, people walking past who are wondering what is going on. And re-enacting the story helps my faith as well. It really brings the New Testament to life.”
In 2015, James Burke-Dunsmore had directed the first Havant Passion Play in the same park, and also played Jesus. He also plays Jesus in The Life of Christ, staged at the Wintershall Estate near Guildford each summer, and in Trafalgar Square each Good Friday.
He returned again this year to lead the cast of volunteers through rehearsals and workshops, and to play Jesus again. Cast members were quick to praise him for his vision, as well as the gentle way he gave them confidence to perform.
Lizzy Gradidge, from St John's Church, Rowlands Castle, said: “James is unbelievably positive and will see something positive in what you've done, however bad you think you were! He is an amazing director and so creative.”
And James himself said: “It is quite something to spend weeks and weeks reading Scripture over and over again, and you keep finding new things. Then when you perform it in front of an audience, even if you've been doing it for 20 years as I have, something different comes out of it again.
“In the rehearsal room, we don’t know who goes to church and who, doesn't, which denomination they might be, who has read the Bible or not – we just read Scripture, experience it together and perform it. And one of the other things about these kinds of community plays is that they build bridges between churches – Anglicans perform alongside Roman Catholics and so on.
“Last time we performed here there were some people who had never even spoken in public before. They spoke perhaps one line last time and then a few lines this time. It has been a privilege to see them develop in confidence.”
Main photo: Jesus (James Burke-Dunsmore) talks to the woman who washed his feet (Phoebe Jeffrey)