Morecambe Goth Passion Play

In April 2019, the Other National Theatre lunched its first social experiment — the Morecambe Goth Passion Play.

Our report… 

Combining drama, music and a grand finale, the Morecambe Goth Passion Play is a free daytime street performance accessible to all. It’s a proudly community-driven, professional-led drama that takes place on the beach, promenade, streets and the Alhambra theatre in Morecambe’s West End.

Performed by a cast of professional and community actors, the first show in 2019 was intended to be a promenade drama and spectacular that takes its inspiration from the narrow streets, cobbled back alleys and sweeping seafront of the Victorian West End of Morecambe with its amazing views of the Lake District on the other side of Morecambe Bay

As Jesus carries his cross barefoot and scourged through the streets, he begs for help from a bystander who scornfully refuses. Jesus’s supporters try to hold the bystander to account. Instead he escapes, but puts the blame on an innocent Goth who had clearly wanted to help the future Messiah.

Now cursed in the eyes of the world, the wrongly accused Goth finds herself doomed across time to roam the earth in search of salvation. Rejected by her community and those she encounters in her wanderings, she comes to understand the reasons why people fear the Other even when it comes from within us. Ultimately she finds kindness in the most unlikely quarters as we all discover the inner Goth inside us. Meanwhile, special ‘playlets’ based on social themes dot the West End, ready for discovery by the audience.

Fanfare for the Uncommon Man

Taking inspiration from the great Gothic novels of the 19th century, the Jarrow Crusade, Pilgrim’s Progress, and the social iniquities of the UK today, the Morecambe Goth Passion Play lays to rest the incipient hatred in organised religion and places the Otherness of the Goth – of us all – into an eternal passion that seeks redemption in resurrection that might not be what you expect.

The Goth Passion Play is therefore a powerful drama that rips through the human condition, a community play that speaks for those in need, a global celebration of a unique culture and values. And most of all it gives a voice to the Oppressed and the Other, something given particular resonance in our Disunited Kingdom of Austerity today.

What we did…

Our Arts Council England application got rejected despite the fact that it ticked all the boxes of the new eligibility tick boxes that they introduced earlier this year. Still, it didn’t bode well that the person at the Arts Council who we phoned with a query didn’t actually know what a ‘passion play’ was. And then potential local funding from the Big Local’s West End Million fell through because of timing, while end-of-year budget money from Lancaster Council didn’t materialise. All other funding avenues met with failure, as indeed many had warned us…

So it was thanks to the generosity and belief of a small but wonderful group of angels that we managed to put on a £15,000 spectacular for £1,500, which essentially amounted to covering the fees of the professional creatives plus a bit for props and costumes.

It wasn’t going to be the show that we had in mind (additionally there was no box office income because this could only be a free show), and yet the Morecambe Goth Passion Play turned out to be an event of amazing spirit that showed what could be achieved theatrically within the West End community of Morecambe. We had a vision, and all of its parts proved successful. 

Our two-pronged plan…

The first part of the plan was to take over the Alhambra and to show off the building at its best as a working theatre to the community. This had not been done as far as we know for decades.

With director Will Nelson and assistant director Invi Brenna we took over the whole building to rehearse a cast of professionals and community volunteers, to build sets and props. Meanwhile our teenager volunteers scoured Morecambe’s array of charity shops and helped to integrate Alex Wetton’s Corrosion Goth Club sound system into the script (Alex deejays as ‘DJ Alex the Gothmariner’). Invi took over a large airy space on the first floor and filled it with tools to make it into the props/costume factory, where she hewed together from scrap wood from a nearby chapel a crucifix ‘for indoor and outdoor use’, wove a health & safety compliant crown of thorns, and assembled an eclectic wardrobe of costumes ancient and modern. 

The second aim was to produce a show that mixed community and professionals in an environment (i.e. the theatre and the West End) where people would take sustainable experience and a community performance model from staging the event. Linked to this was also the aim of fusing local and national issues (such as identity, wellbeing, austerity) while showcasing the West End community and Morecambe/Heysham area in a positive light. 

Ultimately we wanted to prove that we could produce a spectacular, even on a small scale, that represents the community yet is produced to national professional standards.

And all this was brought together under the overall aim of celebrating the Other through a very particular North West worldview! 

Helping us were Claire Cozler, Morgane Cozler, Becca Snow, Ray Wilcockson, Gabriel Khitarishvili-Awde and Alex Wetton. They performed but did so much more to pull the show together. Kerys Barlow and Jason Nicholson, who are part of the volunteer team who run the Alhambra and keep it open for the community throughout the year, were also stars in helping the venue function smoothly as we took it over for the week.

Cross in the sand

Written by Nick Awde, the main play part of the show was a staging of the St Matthew Passion from the Gospels. All the direct biblical quotes came from the King James Bible version – its English still reflects the Lancashire speech patterns and cadences of today. The story shows the life and struggles of a modern-day Goth in parallel to the condemnation, torture and death of Jesus Christ – and how there is a form of resurrection for them and us. The story also takes key elements of its inspiration from the tragic killing of Sophie Lancaster in 2007 in Bacup, also in Lancashire, and the lives of those who currently live in Austerity Britain. 

On Bank Holiday Easter Saturday, the play started with Jesus carrying his cross across the beach outside through the holidaymakers on the sand. There he encounters the Goth, and then, picking up extra audience members, we moved into the Alhambra for the rest of the show. We somehow managed to pick the first amazingly sunny weekend of the year, so (a) it was usually boiling hot and (b) the big crowd we picked up on the beach and Promenade preferred to stay there!

Providing a parallel story of the North West were the 14 Stations of the Cross playlets. These were intended to be live vignettes performed by the community in the streets and shops of the West End. The lack of funding plus complete silence from the Council’s public events licensing department meant that the playlets ended up as installations with visual objects and recorded text that was activated by the audience. These were dotted about the theatre and provided a new way of exploring spaces in this rediscovered building.

The scripts were written by Nick, who directed, radio play-style, performers who are community members. The bitter-sweet recordings, some of them humorous, were local responses to issues like child poverty, isolation, Universal Credit, autism, Alzheimer’s and the Chinese Cockle Pickers’ Tragedy, which happened in Morecambe Bay, overlooked by the Alhambra.

The scripts were written by Nick, who directed community members in bitter-sweet pieces that were local responses to things like child poverty, isolation, Universal Credit, autism, Alzheimer’s and the Chinese Cockle Pickers’ Tragedy, which happened in Morecambe Bay, overlooked by the Alhambra.

On to the next Goth Passion Play

What we couldn’t do — but what we hope to do in a following year — are these ambitions:

1. To allow the audience to explore the West End neighbourhood around the Alhambra, using a Goth Passion Play map to locate the shops and organisations of the West End where they experience the 14 Stations as either as video/art installations or live performances, created by local artists and community members.

2. To involve performers from outside of the area as a way widening our idea of inclusion and representation.

3. To link the play and West End events more closely with Goth culture through an evening of unplugged music that would join the Goth Passion Play to the Corrosion Goth club night at the theatre later in the evening.

4. To organise a ‘Parade of Others’ along the seafront Promenade from the town centre to the theatre and then on to the start of the show (Morecambe’s first ever Pride along the Promenade shortly after in July 2019 showed what is immensely possible!)

5. To tie in music and costume within the main play itself as an integral structure of the narrative, experience and message. The West End has a small but growing number of local talented costume-makers and we’re gutted that we couldn’t use them the first time round. In fact they were intended to be the main part of our original budget.

6. And basically to find the deserved funds to produce an amazing show each year that spends every penny in the community, raises awareness and pride for the West End and celebrates the Otherness that’s in all of us!

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