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Countdown begins to world’s ‘oldest and largest’ Passion play, held every decade in Germany

25 May 2018


The Passion Play theatre at night

The Passion Play theatre at night

THE countdown has begun to the world’s “oldest and largest” Passion play, held every ten years in Oberammergau, Germany.

The Oberammergau Passion Play will be performed 102 times between May and October 2020, and is be expected to attract more than 500,000 visitors to the small Bavarian town.

Dating back to 1633, the story of the Passion is performed and organised solely by inhabitants of the town, as part of a vow made to spare the town from the plague. They promised to re-enact the last week of Jesus’s life, from his entrance into Jerusalem to his crucifixion and resurrection. In 2020, it will be the 42nd time that it has been performed.

The town is in the Roman Catholic heartlands of southern Germany, but the Passion Play is increasingly multicultural and multifaith, reflecting modern Germany. Tickets sell fast, and are in huge demand. Its director, Christian Stückl, has been in charge since 1990; he said last week that his aim was to “bring young people back to the play”.

Speaking at a launch event in London last week, Mr Stückl said that when he took over the play “it had to change; we were losing the young audience, and it was dying. . . It was a mess when I was appointed — a holy mess — and we have worked hard to reconnect with the people of Oberammergau to bring the play back to life.

“Since the Passion Play takes place once every ten years, I keep having to write the text in a new way, tell the story in a new way. I’ll include things I learned from the previous play. . . if you have an old tradition, you always have to make it new.”

He explained: “I tried to change the text; I brought young people back; and I brought in new costumes and set designs. I changed the play totally. Since 2000 and 2010, I have been trying to change the play in the new way.

“When I first did the play, I was 25. I thought Jesus had to be a revolutionary, and since I have become older I realised that I do not need a very loud Jesus, I need a more concentrated Jesus, which is totally different. I think you have to change it.

“When I first did the play, I had 800 people on stage; now we have more than 2000, and you can see the younger generation is coming back; now we need to bring back the young audience.”

The play lasts for six hours in total, with one break. Visitors to Oberammergau stay in the town itself or the surrounding area.

Frederik Mayet, who played the part of Jesus in 2010 (Features, 30 March 2010), is now the play’s press spokesman. Every performance is “always almost sold out”, he said, and playing the role of Jesus “changed my life”. He continued: “The moment when Jesus dies you can hear a pin drop” in the 5000-seater auditorium.

He feels that St John’s Gospel “is not good for the stage,” and St Matthew’s and St Mark’s Gospels are better suited for adaptation.

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