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Young disciples

Kevin Berry watches youth theatre and professional actors work together to stage a Passion Play.

The future of Harrogate's theatre in education company is in grave doubt, but rather than dwell on probable closure, the director, Nobby Dimon, has flung himself into a major project for the main stage.

He has prepared The Passion Plays, his own adaption of the Easter story, using material from the York, Wakefield and Lincoln Mystery plays.

"I have an affection for their simplicity, directness and style", he explained. "There is no attempt to be realistic. They have a different kind of truth. I like the fact that there would be crude stage effects, bits of cloth used to represent the Red Sea, cardboard cut-out doves on swinging ropes. That kind of thing appeals, it's part of what I think of as the magic of theatre. Theatre requires the audience to put in an imaginative effort."

Dimon is using eight professional actors, 12 Harrogate Youth Theatre members and four musicians, who play a specially composed score. The young people are not just there to make up the numbers, all have several speaking parts, indeed one plays Pilate, and they are all on stage throughout the performance.

The logistics of simply getting everyone together proved difficult. Four of the professional actors are members of the Theatre Rep Company and were busily performing another play during the evenings of the rehearsal period. They were free during the day, of course, but the youth theatre people were at school.

I joined them for their first full-cast meeting, just a little over two weeks away from opening night. It was supposed to be a run-through, but given the urgency of Dimon's task it was more of a walk-through and an intense exchange of ideas and instructions.

"Now somehow half a dozen of you have got to be the mob. So let's have fewer disciples please!" The decision had been made to have Christ riding a bicycle into Jerusalem but should anyone frown at that idea I must say that the actors' reverence and respect for what they were doing was apparent. Their production has energy and vigour. They are dressed as modern tradespeople and the story is staged on a building site. When planning the setting, Dimon's designer suddenly said, "Why don't we just have them building the crucifixion?" And that is what happens. The set has a group of people setting up scaffolding for an enormous cross almost 20 feet high. It provides different levels for acting and part of it is designed to open up to become Christ's tomb.

"We are trying to reflect in a modern way how the plays would have been performed in medieval times," says Dimon.

"Do you need to be a Christian to enjoy them? I have been at pains to say no, because although I believe that practising Christians will enjoy these plays, especially the spirit of them, I don't think there's anything difficult in them for somebody who is an atheist to accept. You don't necessarily have to be a Christian to be moved by these stories".

Until April 22. Tickets: 01423 502116.

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