Review from the Church Times, 12 March 2010
LITURGICAL DRAMA TAKES TO THE ROAD
Pat Ashworth attends a Lenten experience from Riding Lights

Man on stage, washing another man's feet. Both in modern dress  © not advert

New commandment: Luke Waldock and Jonathan Race in The Narrow Road
Photo by Andrew Dyer


EMERGING into the night from Riding Lights’ touring production for Lent, I feel a little like T. S Eliot’s Magi, who pondered whether they had witnessed a birth or a death. I can’t decide whether I’ve been to, predominantly, a church service incorporating a Passion drama, or a Passion play punctuated with liturgy. On balance, I think it’s the former.

It’s powerful stuff, though. In the timeless authenticity of travellers on the road to Calvary, and in the Revd Jeremy Fletcher’s clear accom¬panying liturgy, you can see the influences of its co-commissioners, the Dean and Chapter of York and Lightline Pilgrimages, for whom working with Christian communities in the Holy Land is a priority.

A towering black tent is the backdrop for pilgrims on the hot and dusty journey, retracing the steps of Jesus using a well-thumbed manual that is part book of prophecy, part Bradshaw’s Guide. Tom Peters, Jonathan Race, Luke Waldock, and Rachel Wilcock slip in and out of roles to play out key episodes in the life of Christ, from the child in the Temple to the road to Emmaus.

It is vivid and contemporary, with moments of high drama in the woman possessed by a demon, the Samaritan woman hauling buckets at the well, the brutality of Roman rule, baptism at the Jordan, the sweating agony in Gethsemane. The clamour of Jerusalem, the heat of the desert, and the rich earth of olive groves come to life in the guidebook prose, the sound of cicadas, and the background of traditional Palestinian music.

The crucifixion itself is pro¬foundly shocking. Luke Waldock’s performance knocks the audience for six, accompanied as it is by the detached clinical account of how a man dies in this fashion: the number of breaths per minute, the splitting bones, the dehydration, the tongue stuck to the roof of the mouth.

Between each of six batches of the story comes the opportunity to respond, in a sung form of the ancient Christian prayer, “Holy God, holy and strong, holy and immortal, have mercy on us,” and in prayer, confession, and traditional Passion hymns. I appreciated its beauty and intent, but it sometimes felt like an interruption, a break in transmission which lost the momentum of the drama in order to direct a response that will in reality be different for everyone.

The opening night was in the soaring beauty of the Chapter House at Lincoln Cathedral, where the leader of the worship lent his own gravitas to the liturgy. Paul Birch is the writer, and Paul Bur¬bridge directs a moving experience that, I guess, will be different at every venue on the tour, depending on the intimacy of the setting and the style of the leader.

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