Passion, everyone knows, is an emotion barely controlled. The ancient meaning of the word, everyone also knows, refers to the depths of suffering experienced by Jesus Christ.
A modern, secular expression of that distress is found in this reimagining of the Passion Play by theatre company Brokentalkers, together with community groups from the Dublin suburbs of Ballyfermot and Cherry Orchard. Over an entire weekend, this epic promenade production brings into vivid focus a people hit hard by Ireland’s ongoing housing crisis.
Starting at a corporate launch in a hotel conference room, biblical details are elegantly lifted into ordinary life. A thieving merchant operating under grander auspices comes to us as Mr Temple (a slimy Donal O’Kelly). He’s a property developer making vague promises of prosperity, but members of the assembled crowd aren’t fooled by his proposed regeneration, with its lack of community consultation and alarming plans for evictions.
Directors Feidlim Cannon and Gary Keegan employ arch effects – Mr Temple’s security guard even raises an ‘APPLAUSE’ sign – but more arresting is the arrival of a group of children, their mouths taped over, their visions of the future heard only as voiceover. This property scheme has aggressively targeted infrastructure for young people.
It’s thrilling, then, to be buoyed throughout the weekend by local children’s orchestras, singers, dancers and baton twirlers. The number of players seems infinite, all ushered in and out in a miraculous feat of stage management, in a production that’s overwhelmingly pastoral.
And we have a leader, too. On a tour of the proposed regeneration, Mr Temple’s henchmen burn down a roadside squat belonging to The Messenger (a serene Roxanna Nic Liam, costumed in Mediterranean blue and yellow). Later, at the re-launch of the local equine centre, she interrupts proceedings. “Do you recognise me?” she asks us, where a religious messenger might ask, “Do you love me?” A team of young jockeys ride out and drive Mr Temple off before dancing in triumph over a phoney power.
It’s not by accident that the action changes pace, becoming a celebratory parade as we journey from a desolate business park into vibrant housing estates. When Mr Temple’s security guards attempt to evict a resident, performers in the audience take decisive action, revealing themselves as apostles (one even refers to the henchman as Judas) of an irrepressible message, sent not from on high, but from the ground up.
The production’s displays heighten towards the end, with The Messenger’s trial taking place high atop a church portico. “I will not play God,” claims Mr Temple, who proceeds to do so just that. With The Messenger placed onto a wooden plank, we follow to the local park for the crucifixion. “Tomorrow you will be a distant memory,” assures her executioner.
But the surprise intervention of a young girl, asking us, “Do you recognise me? Is this what you want?”, proves that old words can in fact strengthen into gospel. After driving out Mr Temple, she makes an eloquent and rousing case for the community’s place at the table, for new family supports and safe places for children.
The Passion always ends with a resurrection, and here it’s that of an old truth, restated many times but more relevant than ever in this era of vulture capitalism: people must have a voice when it comes to the places they live. And this community, judging by their determined production, will shake heaven to be heard.
The Passion Project took place in Ballyfermot and Cherry Orchard on April 8th and 9th. For more details, click here.