Old graveyard provides the backdrop for open-air Passion Play

(C) Keith Blundy / Aegies Associates
(C) Keith Blundy / Aegies Associates
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A GRAVEYARD at a disused quarry is to host a dramatic open-air play.

The Houghton Passion Play, which will be staged at Houghton Hillside Cemetery, will also see the audience take part in the production, making up the crowd who jostle for a view of Jesus before his crucifixion.

The cemetery is in an 18th-century limestone quarry, where the first graves date back from the 19th century.

Today, it is a closed cemetery, with burials having stopped in the early 1970s, and is part of St Michael’s Church in the Diocese of Durham.

The Passion Play, which is now in its 10th year, is usually performed in the church.

This will be the first time it has been staged in the open air.

The Reverend Canon Sue Pinnington, Rector of Houghton and producer of the play, said: “The Passion Play has been successfully produced in the church in recent years, but this year we are taking it outdoors for the first time.

“The cemetery, with its backdrop of cliffs, is a terrific amphitheatre and will create a great atmosphere.”

Local writer Stuart Clappison and lyricist Andy Slater created the play, a modern-day interpretation of the story, with the Reverend James Menzies, assistant curator of neighbouring Hetton Lyons, taking on the role of Jesus.

“There will be a lot of movement during the play,” said Rev Pinnington. “The narrator and members of the cast will move around the quarry and the audience will be able to follow the story, exactly as happened when Jesus was crucified.

“There will be guards in modern military dress, complete with guns, who will move people away if they go too near, to give it a realistic feel.

“The whole idea is to show that the story may be 2,000 years old but it is still relevant and contemporary.

“People will be able to experience what it was like for those people watching the crucifixion of Jesus.

“There will be an edginess to the show.

“People will be able to accompany Jesus on his last journey.

“It will be a living play.”

It is hoped the crucifixion scene will provide a reminder of the area’s historic links with quarrying and mining.

It will take place in front of the Miners’ Monument, a cross which commemorates the many miners whose bodies lie in the cemetery.

They include some of those who lost their lives in the Houghton Colliery Disaster of 1850, when firedamp and coal dust were accidentally ignited by a safety lamp, killing 27 miners.

The Passion Play is supported by local community groups, including the Friends of Hillside Cemetery, who have worked hard to restore the site in recent years.

Businesses and the council have also supported the event.

For more information about the play, which takes place at 11am on Good Friday, April 6, visit www.stmichaels-hls.org.uk

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