Manchester Passion Play: 'Being involved has led me to know Jesus as my Saviour'

Rob Slater as Jesus in the Manchester Passion PlayPhil Taylor

Muslims coming to know Jesus.

Alcoholics finding sobriety in faith.

Anglicans renewing their faith by being born again in Christ.

These are just some of the extraordinary stories being played out in the Manchester Passion, now in rehearsals.

The story of Jesus' teachings, his betrayal, his trial and his Passion as he moves towards his death and Resurrection will be played out by a cast of 37 actors, a choir of 50 and a supporting band of 15 against the backdrop of Manchester Cathedral on Saturday afternoon. 

Crowds of up to 5,000 are expected in Cathedral Gardens for the Manchester Passion.

The cast includes Christians from churches ranging from Anglican and Roman Catholics to Baptist, Methodist, independent evangelical and Pentecostal churches. And it even includes some Muslims, who are travelling miles from neighouring towns such as Halifax - just because they love the chance the Passion gives to get to know God better.

Jesus is played by a 59-year-old salesman from Bolton, Rob Slater. The BBC's Songs of Praise programme is filming the event for its Easter special.

Many of the cast have come through unconventional backgrounds to their faith.

Geoff Millard directs rehearsalsPhil Taylor

Simon Peter is played by Shaun Crossley from Bolton 57, who works as an engineer. He has served several prison sentences in the past, and until 13 years ago was a suffering alcoholic. Now in recovery from the illness, he has been involved in several productions from the Passion team now. Gillian Thompson, who plays Mary Magdelene is also a recovering former alcoholic, working as an actress and playwright.

Director Geoff Millard told Christian Today: 'Its an incredible experience we are putting on in the centre of Manchester. We have a wonderful script with 37 actors, a choir of 50 and a supporting band of 15 supporting. It's a three-tier stage built at the back of Manchester cathedral.'

Gillian Thompson as Mary Magdalene in the Manchester PassionPhil Taylor

Passion plays have been done before. The story has been told many millions of times, all over the world.

Yet to this day, it has the power to bring extraordinary change to individual lives.

Millard said: 'It was being involved in doing the Passion in Bolton in 2011 that brought me to knowing God as my Saviour. I was recruited as artistic diretor of that. I was an Anglican but it opened my eyes. I had to read the Bible to understand the script. I learned how to pray fervently. I became a born-again Christian. I still am an Anglican so I've not moved churches. But I spend a lot of time with people of all denominations - Baptists, Pentecostals, Methodists.

'We have Muslims in the cast. One Muslim travels all the way from Halifax to Manchester because he wants to be involved, to profess his faith in God.'

Another Muslim involved with the play is still a Muslim, he says, but has come to 'know Jesus' in a deep and powerful way. 

Christians are being invited to get involved by praying for the Manchester Passion Play in their daily devotions and church prayer groups, to join the play's Friday prayer walk, to fast for the Passion and to join the Prayer Whatsapp group.

Rob Slater as Jesus in the Manchester PassionPhil Taylor