The Devil’s Passion

The Devil’s Passion

This March, a remarkable retelling of the Passion of Christ comes to Italy. 

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Wed 28 Feb 2024 10:50 AM

The Devil’s Passion by award-winning playwright and actor Justin Butcher reimagines the timeless narrative from Satan’s perspective. Renowned British arts critic Mark Lawson has praised it as “radical and provocative, a devilishly clever retelling of the Easter Story”, while acclaimed actor David Suchet described it simply as “One of the most amazing evenings I’ve spent in the theatre”.

“I wanted to explore the Passion from a completely new angle,” says Butcher. “A kind of audacious ‘hell’s-eye view’, to provoke a new encounter with a story that can feel over-familiar.” Framed satirically against a contemporary War on Terror backdrop, this 90-minute, one-man show tears open key issues of our time: the Annunciation is depicted as the “radicalization” of a 15-year-old schoolgirl, through whom “the Enemy enters in”; Satan’s battle is waged in defence of the “gates” of “our civilization” against the “enemies of freedom”; through an Occupied Palestine bristling with checkpoints, walls, razor-wire fences and watchtowers, Jesus heads to Jerusalem on a “suicide mission”. Finally discerning Jesus’ plan—to die, to assault the gates of hell itself—Satan enlists the audience to join him in averting disaster. He must do all he can to keep Jesus alive or risk being destroyed.

“It’s part espionage thriller, part satire, part poetic meditation,” says Butcher, “Homeland meets Mistero Buffo meets Dante’s Inferno, set in a ‘Holy Land’ characterised by harsh divisions, barriers, walls, alienation, between hated Roman occupier and indigenous peoples, between Jew and Samaritan, clean and unclean, slave and free, ‘righteous’ and ‘sinner’, everyone imprisoned tidily in their boxes, a state of affairs which the diabolical narrator finds entirely satisfactory. Until, right from the heart of this suffocating, intractable scenario, the Passion story erupts. A radical, transgressive story of love transcending fear and hatred, of non-violence in the face of oppression, hope breaking down barriers, the victory of vulnerability. It draws together my fascination with the Passion story with my involvement for many years in the Palestinian people’s struggle for freedom, justice and equality in the Holy Land.” He continues: “Another important influence was the work of the extraordinary Italian theatre maestro Dario Fo, satirist, playwright, actor, clown, commedia genius, who’s been a lifelong inspiration in my work, in particular his comic, subversive reworking of biblical narratives, Mistero Buffo (the Comic Mysteries), which outraged the Catholic Church when it premiered in 1969 (the year I was born). So, these ingredients alchemised somehow and produced The Devil’s Passion, a passion play set in an occupied Palestine and told by the devil. Given the play’s hommage to Dario Fo, I could not be more delighted to be bringing the show to Italy, in partnership with J.Productions, Milan. Against the backdrop of the tragic events unfolding in Israel-Palestine, the play’s setting and themes could not be more topical. I offer it humbly, as a story which embraces both tragedy and hope.”

Directed by Olivier Award winner Guy Masterson-Mastroianni, The Devil’s Passion tours to the Anglican churches of Naples, Malta, Palermo, Milan, Venice and Rome throughout March. It is produced by J.Productions, Milan, whose previous collaborations with Justin Butcher include the acclaimed Speaking Dante performance in Florence, back in September 2021, a dramatized reading of the whole of Dante’s Divine Comedy on the 700th anniversary of the poet’s death, with an international cast led by Ralph Fiennes, Helen Mirren, Jessie Buckley and Adjoa Andoh, in support of Italian refugee charity, La Comunità di Sant’Egidio. 

St Mark’s English Church host the performance at 7pm on March 21 and 22, with tickets available via Eventbrite.

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