‘One of the most amazing evenings I have spent in the theatre.’ Sir David Suchet CBE
For the Pick Of The Fringe Festival at the Playground Theatre
Passion Pit Theatre in association with Theatre Tours International & J.Productions, Milan presents
THE DEVIL’S PASSION
or Easter in Hell
written & performed by Justin Butcher
directed by Guy Masterson
designed by Sean Cavanagh
lighting design by Tom Turner
sound design by Jack C. Arnold
video design by Damian Hale & Christian Krupa
LATIMER ROAD, LONDON W10 6RQ
Tuesday 31st October – Saturday 4th November at 7.30pm
BOOK TICKETS: www.theplaygroundtheatre.org.uk
TELEPHONE BOOKINGS: 020 8960 0110
‘There are not many actors currently alive, let alone in the Fringe, who can play Jesus, and Judas, and the Devil, in the same performance and get away with it. And Justin Butcher does … with clarity, precision and a mastery of the craft. He is a privilege to watch. There is a reason the gospel is told again and again in media. There are subtle meanings, new voices, modern ideas to be read into it, old ideas which have new meaning, even if the structure stays the same. The Devil’s Passion is a great example of why we shouldn’t be afraid of doing it.’ **** 4 STARS
George Lea, BROADWAY BABY
‘Butcher dances these scenes exquisitely … breathtaking, fluid and haunting.’ ***** 5 STARS
Catherine Lamm, BRITISH THEATRE GUIDE
‘Thrilling, searing … Justin Butcher’s excellent and profoundly moving The Devil’s Passion plays at the Assembly George Square Studios … A profound meditation on Christ’s Gospel of Love and Solidarity, enacted with a deceptive directness and simplicity which conceals its great theological and dramaturgical depths. The Devil’s Passion is a coup de théâtre. I urge you to see it.’
Philip Crispin, INDEPENDENT CATHOLIC NEWS
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Following its acclaimed premiere in Milan, April 2021, in association with J.Productions, Milan, the online audio production of THE DEVIL’S PASSION is now hosted on Vimeo: LISTEN HERE
LISTEN FREE – please DONATE
to support the Amos Trust Emergency Appeal for Gaza
Amos Trust is a UK registered charity no. 1164234
‘Satirical, darkly comic, thoroughly stimulating production’
‘Vivid, comic and lyrical twist on familiar events’
The Sunday Telegraph
‘Radical and provocative: a devilishly clever retelling of the Easter Story.’
Mark Lawson, The Tablet
‘A vivid piece of storytelling, a visceral version of the Christ story, a bravura performance.’
British Theatre Guide
‘Simply outstanding, a very artful piece of theatre, deeply humane, utterly original.’
Plays to See
‘A terrific performance, startlingly original … it crackles with great lines.’
The Church Times
The Devil’s Passion is available for booking
View audience reactions HERE
Passion Pit Theatre presents
The Devil’s Passion
or Easter in Hell
33 AD. Jesus enters Jerusalem to fulfil his destiny. Satan ascends from Hell to stop him.
A battle begins – for the soul of humanity.
‘… Within the next hour, our operatives will isolate, engage and capture or kill the notorious leader of the most extreme, dangerous and contagious ideology to emerge in the modern era, whose terror activities represent the gravest threat to our interests across the region and the wider world. I refer, of course, to the radical preacher and populist demagogue Y’shua Bar Yessuf, the man known by way of shorthand to our operatives as “Jesus” …’
‘A riveting, witty performance with fine attention to detail.’ British Theatre Guide
‘A serious and seriously fine piece of writing … a startlingly original presentation, a terrific performance, it crackles with great lines.’ The Church Times
‘A light sandblasting for jaded souls, a gleefully heretical flavour … Timely, beautifully written, entertaining and poignant … Butcher’s writing shines.’ Huffington Post
‘The nuance of Butcher’s writing and the intelligence and rigour of its theology make The Devil’s Passion such a worthwhile and forceful piece of theatre, deeply engaged with a radical conception of spiritual reconciliation … theological expansiveness and fascinating elasticity of thought.’ The Stage
Award-winning playwright Justin Butcher, author of the world-famous Scaramouche Jones, the hit anti-war satire The Madness of George Dubya and the acclaimed Go to Gaza, Drink the Sea, now turns his pen to the greatest story of all. Framed satirically against a contemporary ‘War on Terror’ backdrop, The Devil’s Passion offers a radically fresh perspective on the timeless narrative, an audacious hell’s-eye view of the Passion of Christ from a master storyteller, by turns comic, gripping, poetic, pungent and heart-stirring. Directed by Olivier Award winner Guy Masterson (Morecambe, Twelve Angry Men, Animal Farm), with a haunting and evocative soundscape by Jack C. Arnold (War and Peace, Holy Flying Circus, The Woman in Black ). The Devil’s Passion was adapted recently as a major new drama for BBC R3, starring David Suchet, broadcast in 2017, hailed in The Observer as a ‘magnificent performance’ in a ‘satirical, darkly comic, thoroughly stimulating production [which] raises many theological and ethical questions’ and in The Sunday Telegraph as a ‘vivid, comic and lyrical twist on familiar events.’
Supported by Trevisan & Cuonzo
GLasS of Clerkenwell
Radical and provocative: a devilishly clever retelling of the Easter story
review by Mark Lawson, The Tablet, 18 April 2019
As usual, many performances of Bach’s Passions were staged over Easter, and extracts from the St Matthew provide the soundtrack to the climax of the seasonally thematic solo show by writer-actor Justin Butcher that played in the crypt of St James Church, Clerkenwell, during Holy Week.
However, The Devil’s Passion, subtitled “Easter in Hell”, reverses the polarities of the story in a way that Bach could never have dared. Christ is the antagonist, and Satan the protagonist and narrator.
But there’s nothing irreverent about this. Butcher frames the story as a Middle Eastern thriller, in which Beelzebub is supervising an operation to capture Jesus before he can reveal the real meaning of his mission to the people. This emphasises Christ’s credentials as a “revolutionary leader”, a fairly familiar conceit of liberal theology, although Butcher introduces the chillingly original twist of the Devil bemoaning Christianity as a process of “radicalisation”, and Christ’s acceptance of his prophesied fate as a “suicide mission”.
Butcher plays everyone (Satan, Christ, Mary, Judas, Herod) and everything (the Gadarene swine, the Palm Sunday donkey), with a vivid muscularity of body and voice. By the time Christ is on the Cross, the actor is, fittingly, glistening with sweat.
As the mid-April dusk fell behind the windows of St James’ crypt, Butcher’s frenetic movements cast large shadows on the walls, creating the perfect atmosphere for Gethsemane and the Crucifixion. This justified the choice of venue, but this clever and powerfully fresh retelling of the Passion must surely play in many other places in future years.
A vivid piece of storytelling, a bravura performance
review by Howard Loxton, British Theatre Guide, 15 April 2019
An orator stands at a red-draped lectern in front of a banner inscribed with a black on white symbol of a winged serpent and the Latin motto “non serviam” (I will not serve). It is an expression that has been used by radical political and cultural groups who rebel against established authority or belief but 20th-century experience links the colours and style with Fascism and Nazi rallies: it is a warning. It was also the phrase with which Archangel Lucifer is said to have rebelled against God.
This is the Devil addressing us but not with the hysteric, harsh voice of Hitler and his demagoguery. Satan seems wonderfully reasonable and progressive as he describes a situation in the Middle East that sounds very contemporary: an occupied country where self-determination, fundamentalism and increased emphasis on religion are causing unrest.
“We stand at a crossroads in history,” he says, “facing extremism and fanatical ideology. We in the Free World must stand firm against the onslaught.” He goes on with the reassurance that the anti-terrorist organisation has things under control and an operation this very night will see their net close on the radical leader.
Shedding his smart suit, the Devil then outlines what has been discovered by the intelligence service about the life of this dangerous terrorist from the time his mother, a girl in the occupied territories, became pregnant, through his radicalisation until the latest developments since his recent arrival in Jerusalem are reported even as they are happening.
It follows the story as told in the New Testament Gospels recounted with some excitement, almost as though the Devil were on the side of Jesus, but then pointing out how he undermines stability and, with his outrageous behaviour in the Temple, a trap has been set to secure his removal.
It is a vivid piece of storytelling in which Butcher plays multiple characters as part of the narrative. There are moments in the first half when the pace needs more variety and attention slips, but as the characterisations are more strongly marked by modifications to costume and greater variation in voice quality this becomes increasingly powerful.
He points out the terrorists’ conscious tactic of “ostentatious humility” as he rides on a donkey and tries to exert influence over him. Now begins a battle between them until it becomes clear that this is no terrorist bomber but a sacrificial suicide.
For the committed Christian, this will be a visceral version of the Christ story in which, as Butcher suggests in a programme note, Easter is not about the death of the Son as a form of atonement but rather the time when the Devil is defeated and people offered released from the hell that they live in.
For the non-Christian, it is a version free of self-conscious piety that is dramatically presented in a bravura performance that draws interesting parallels between biblical Palestine and today’s situation.
Simply outstanding: a very artful piece of theatre, deeply humane, utterly original
review by Vera Mikusch, Plays to See, 15 April 2019
Justin Butcher’s performance as the devil is simply outstanding. The physical theatre elements of his acting are incredibly fluent and well-devised to match perfectly with the rhythm of the spoken word. His performance as a demagogue could not be more convincing. Even though The Devil’s Passion is, objectively speaking, a very long play, the two hours pass in the blink of an eye as he hypnotises the audience with skilled speeches and monologues, underlined with sound effects that are as close to cinematic as theatre can get.
The lyrics of the play are a pleasure to listen to. While not being overly poetic, the rhythm of the words mixed with the occasional rhyme make the play not just the retelling of a plot, but a very artful piece of theatre that surely would deserve its place in the world of literature as well. It shows that Butcher is not just an actor, but also a published writer.
This Easter play could not have a more ideal setting than The Crypt On The Green – the literal crypt of an historical church at the heart of London. The height and shape of the ceiling carry the acoustics through the whole room. This gives Butcher an even more devil like appearance and enhances the skilled speeches. Paired with the light effects, some scenes are just godly. The play with light and shade is used well in order to create religious key moments of the passion.
The costume is a neat suit, just as the devil is often displayed in. While it does feel like a cliché, it is also simply an additional prop to underline the intended sense of superiority of the devil. Besides, considering that the plot of the play is a more than well-known two-thousand-year-old story, some cliché should be allowed.
However, that should not distract from the fact that the story-telling itself is deeply humane with no stereotypical or flat characters to be found.
This is the right play to enjoy during the Easter period. It sheds a new perspective on a well-known story. A more sinister point of view on events is taken without changing any part of the biblical story, however, the plot does not feel repetitive or predictable. The Devil’s Passion is utterly original and thought through in every way. If five stars wasn’t the upper end of the bar, this performance would get even more!
A magnificent and profound religious drama, worthy of Dante
review by Philip Crispin, Independent Catholic News, 20 April 2019
Going to see a play entitled The Devil’s Passion or Easter in Hell in Holy Week might set alarm bells ringing for the faithful, but, be assured, Justin Butcher’s ‘divine comedy in one act’, while indeed full of dazzling wit, is a magnificent and profound religious drama, worthy of Dante.
Butcher, who once played the ‘demi-devil’ Iago in Othello when a student, has had a rich and exciting musical and theatrical career, penning celebrated works performed by Pete Postlethwaite and David Suchet among others, but here he plays in his own one-man piece, both as Satan and also every other part in this Salvation history. I was thrilled and moved by his physical and vocal range, energy and the beautifully conceived and composed narrative: a range of story-telling and re-enactment.
The play opens with Satan striding to a podium, suited, debonair, presidential, announcing, ‘after a three-year hunt’, the fruition tonight of ‘a meticulously planned counter-terrorism sting.’ The topical satire is delicious. With a nod to Paradise Lost, Satan casts himself as leader of the ‘free world’ against fanatical enemies of freedom, in thrall to a ‘stagnant tyranny of mindless orthodoxy’ and an autocratic deity. Victory is in sight: ‘Within the next hour, our operatives will isolate, engage and capture or kill the notorious leader of the most extreme, dangerous and contagious ideology to emerge in the modern era, whose terror activities represent the gravest threat to our interests across the region and the wider world. I refer, of course, to the radical preacher and populist demagogue Y’shua Bar-Yessuf – the man known, by way of shorthand to our operatives, as “Jesus”.’
No sooner than these words are proclaimed, Satan kicks over the podium and strips down to vest and trousers. He is going to feel the heat.
He proceeds to recount, and enact, the backstory:
‘It begins with a girl. A schoolgirl, maybe 15 years old. In an occupied territory, Palestine. The biblical kingdom of Israel no longer. A fading dream of ancient pride, long ago.’
Miriam (Mary) is praying.
‘Take note, you theorists of political science and military strategists. Crush a people too heavily, squeeze ’em too hard, and they pray. And that’s where it starts, the radicalisation, the recruitment – they pray, and they dream, and they pray.’
‘The shadow grows across the courtyard. Wings? A thrill of fear swarms through her chest, her heart leaps, eyes brimming and … [as Mary] why do I want to laugh? What is this … joy flooding, coursing through me?’
Throughout, Butcher alternates between wholeheartedly inhabiting each role he plays and intersplicing the narrative with ironic and mocking asides from himself as the Devil. He also embraces anachronism in the best traditions of the medieval mysteries (and Shakespeare) where past and present mutually inform each other and interfuse in salvation chronology.
‘The door of life opens within her. God and human essence fuse. A fragile germ conceived. The first gate falls. The enemy enters in.’
Butcher’s ‘falling gates’ leitmotif proves an inspired and gripping engagement with the Harrowing of Hell tradition of Holy Saturday (today), derived from the Gospel of Nicodemus, which recounts how Christ descended into Hell and freed those within – as notably performed in the York Mysteries passion pageant. Psalm 24 (Atollite portas) was sung in remembrance of Jesus passing through Hell’s gates: ‘Lift up your heads, open up ancient doors, let the King of Glory enter.’
The shapeshifting Prince of Lies re-enacts the Temptation in the Wilderness in which he plays a scrawny vulture, a chirruping cricket and a beguiling ‘still, small voice’ – lovely, powerful and precise physicalisation complements the writerly range and brings all manner of thought-provoking resonances. Mirage-like, the vulture calls to mind the ravens who fed Elijah in the desert.
Christ says: ‘”Begone from me, Satan! For so it is written: you shall worship the Lord your God alone. Him only shall you serve.” And my still, small voice erupts into a splitting howl, smashing into pieces against the unity of Jesus. And the second gate, the gate of flesh, falls.’ After this rebuff, Satan launches into a delicious rant against ‘homogeneous monochrome globalised goodness. Nature abhors the monoculture!’ He prefers, ‘Cluster bomblets of pain spreading, like ripples from a tiny pebble’s plop, to eternity.’ Not for him the ‘flatulent pomposity of voices in polyphony – William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons and Thomas bloody Tallis farting peace and praise in forty-part motets [an hilarious echo of Milton’s ‘warbled hallelujahs’ here]. Give me the chaos of warring voices, jarring sounds and clashing noise, polyphony of pandemonium, and I will fill the world with wonder!’
The rant is an apt segue-way into the torment of the glaze-eyed demoniac of Gadara – ‘My name is Legion for we are many’ – and a mass porcine panic as the maniac is healed by Christ. Superb physicalisation and eye-work here. The gate of victims falls. Then follows a profoundly moving healing of the woman with the issue of blood and a clear-eyed exposé of patriarchal cruelty. The woman’s stretching to ‘but touch’ the hem of Jesus’s garment is a tableau evocative of Michelangelo’s digital connection between God and Adam. Her faith has made her whole. The gate of shame is burst open.
The gate of enmity is next to cave in with a lovely comic shift of tone and mood: Christ’s encounter with the Samaritan woman by the well – ‘the village bicycle’, Satan calls her. For Christ, the time is coming when believers will worship ‘in spirit and in truth’. (‘Mmm, stick that on your passport and come on in, fast track!’ says Satan.) The next gate to fall is that of Mammon when Christ invites himself to the house of a ‘perfectly repugnant little reptile named Zacchaeus’ – the turncoat collaborator tax collector. Zacchaeus come out radicalised and Satan duly cites the verse-form parable of Dives and Lazarus which Jesus had told him. It ends, mystery cycle-like, with a challenge to the audience:
How is it, since this story first was heard
So long ago in Jericho and Galilee,
That Lazarus today is still not free?
How comes it that he lies still at your gate?
Will you release him from his wretched fate?
How many more millennia must he wait?
(There is an uncanny resemblance to the challenge posed by Linton Kwesi Johnson in ‘Blair Peach’ here. I wonder if Butcher knows that dub poem.)
No sooner is the parable recounted when Satan says: ‘See where he rides now, Y’shua Bar-Yessuf, Jesus the young Lord God Himself, riding up the royal road to the Holy City, Jerusalem, on a donkey – ostentatiously humble, as always.’ Of course, he is playing the donkey. ‘Welcome to Jerusalem, Son of David, the charnel-house of history!’ And the whirligig of time traces the battle-paths of invaders, ‘Saracens, Babylonians, Romans, Crusaders’, and whizzes by the Wailing Wall, the Dome of the Rock, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. “So, just say the word, your majesty, and I’ll turn into a warhorse, an armoured car or a Merkava Mark 4 tank, and then we’ll have some fun. Hee-haw!”
A burlesque contemporary tour guide’s unctuous spiel is then interrupted by Christ’s expulsion of the Temple money-lenders and traders – ‘I came to a house of prayer and found instead a stock exchange!’ The gate of piety falls.
Next, a tense wait for Jesus who ‘went off radar’, only to re-surface in Bethany saying ‘Get behind me Satan’, before the Devil recounts how he entered Judas Iscariot who proceeded to run weeping and raving to Caiaphas, the High Priest, played as a lovely depiction of a suave and worldly politician: ‘One more episode like that ridiculous palm-branch promenade last Sunday, or even worse, that scandalous act of hooliganism in the Temple precincts, and we’ll all be under the axe!’
‘The last port of call, the Upper Room,’ avers Satan. ‘After this we’ve got him.’
Except that as Jesus breaks the bread – ‘This is my body, broken for you’ – and passes the cup – ‘This is my blood of the new covenant, which will be poured out for you’ – Satan recalls with horror his interpretation of events: ‘A suicide mission. Of course. He knows what’s coming, he’s been playing us all along. He’s planning to die. … How could I have been so blind? He’s coming here. This is his plan, to assault the gates of death and hell?’
Too late, he seeks to order Judas to ‘abort the mission’ as Christ prepares ‘on this darkest of nights’ of Passover to cross the forbidden threshold, the eight gate, the gate of fear. A sadistic Satan leaves us in no doubt of Christ’s Agony in the Garden.
Nevertheless, nothing it seems can avert ‘the biggest own goal in the history of Hell’. But still Satan will not give up. He addresses the ‘none-too perky-looking’ Jesus suffering on the cross, predicting that his death will all be for nought in a harangue inspired directly by Dario Fo’s Mistero Buffo. ‘By the time they’re done, they’ll make you into the prettiest wee manikin that ever graced a pulpit panel! … Then this cross of yours – they’ll have it marching at the head of armies, summoning men to come and spill each other’s guts in the sand … Judas was the first to betray you, but there’s millions of them out there waiting to do the same. … Is there even one person out there you might begin to think it was worth dying for?’ Yet, ‘Even as he cries out in agony, “Eloi, eloi, lama sabacthani, My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” in that moment, I know that for him, one – just one – would be enough.’
Mary is there at the foot of the cross. ‘ “All the pain and misery He will spin to finest gold. Evil and violence will eat themselves. And this sight that pierces my heart, this senseless, unjust, lunatic sacrifice, my own son bleeding the hurts of the world, will tear open the heavens and bring Paradise down at last to the dying earth.” Jesus gives a great cry, “It is finished!” …”Father, into Your hands …” The sky turns black. “… I commit my spirit!” He breathes his last. The earth sighs, and shakes beneath me. The Temple curtain is ripped in twain, from top to bottom. God is dead. And I flee in terror, back into Hell.’ Throughout this last scene, Butcher has had the ‘shadow’ of the cross fall over his face as a shaft of light (inspired by RL Stevenson’s moon-beam falling on Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island, as he hid from the buccaneers in an apple barrel).
The Devil’s Passion is a coup de théâtre, a profound meditation on Christ’s Gospel of Love and the Passion enacted with a deceptive directness and simplicity which conceals its great theological and dramaturgical depths. It would be moving indeed to see it tonight on Holy Saturday but I urge impresarios to book it for long runs and tours. An excellent and profoundly moving creation by Justin Butcher and directed with aplomb by Guy Masterson.
Dr Philip Crispin is a Lecturer in Drama at the University of Hull
‘Intense performer, fantastic playwright … authoritative, captivating and riveting.’ **** Adelaide Advertiser
‘Eloquent, compelling script, forcefully charismatic portrayal.’ Adelaide Review
‘It doesn’t get better than this. Sensational.’ Broadway World
‘Topical and insidiously clever, lyrical, animated, compelling and just downright fun.’ **** Great Scott Media
‘Sharp, thought-provoking and often funny, and Justin’s performance is spellbinding’ Inspire
‘A real treat…highly original…genuinely thrilling… Butcher’s skills as a performer take his literate script into the realms of compelling drama…mesmerising’ Blanche Marvin reviews
‘We may think we’ve heard the Easter story from every angle imaginable, but… Justin Butcher has added another to the list – a new, engaging play depicting the Passion from the Devil’s point of view.’ Christian Today
The Devil’s Passion is published by Bloomsbury (Methuen Drama)
The Devil’s Passion is available for booking; contact firstname.lastname@example.org
“Extraordinary solo piece by Justin Butcher … hilarious, picaresque and terrifying” (The Sunday Times)
“Unique … stunning … a new kind of theatre” (Metro)
“Justin Butcher gives … the finest performance on the Fringe this year … a masterpiece of solo Magic Realism, impeccably written, perfectly performed” (British Theatre Guide)
“Justin Butcher is superb in his delivery: engaging, animated, and endearing.” (Adelaide Advertiser)
“Butcher’s use of language is sensational … every line dances like dynamite” (Bristol Evening Post)
“Justin Butcher’s gloriously elegiac prose … reverberates in the memory” (Irish Independent)