Chichester Christian theatre group Pilgrim Players promise a novel take on the last days of Christ in their forthcoming production of Counsel for the Defence by Elizabeth Hale.
Group founder Doreen Field was in the play around 20 years ago. She is delighted to be directing it now. They are offering one performance on Friday, April 24 at 7.30pm at Christ Church, Old Market Avenue, Southgate, Chichester, PO19 1SW (entry is free), but Doreen is offering the production as the kind of piece other churches elsewhere might well like to pick up and host.
The play opens a year after the death of Jesus. The action takes place on a double stage. Pontius Pilate, former governor of Judea, is imprisoned in a cell on the inner stage. Flashbacks to the fateful trial of Jesus a year before are played out on the outer stage. Pilate is interviewed by his defence counsel, a Mr Davidson.
As Doreen says, the play portrays Pilate as a broken man: “The flashback scenes recall him in the days of his power. Davidson has deep insights into Pilate’s involvement in the last days of the life of Jesus. He encourages Pilate to relive the past by gentle yet probing questioning. The play also shows how Pilate, governor of an alien, hostile community, often misreads local situations with dire consequences. This resonates with history throughout the ages, and in recent times, as occupying powers fail to understand and take account of the local population and their deeply-held beliefs.
“Pilate’s wife Claudia becomes involved with some of the Jewish women and experiences a different side of the occupation. She is attracted to their way of life which is so different from her own. Her brief encounter with the man Jesus has a profound effect on her.”
In the end, Pilate comes to realise he put expediency before justice, selfishness before love. It’s an intriguing play, Doreen says. She hopes people will be as moved now as she was when she appeared in it: “Perhaps they will be left with the question: Was Pilate imprisoned in a cell or trapped in his mind by feelings of guilt? Does the questioning by Davidson and the reliving of the past help Pilate to come to terms with events and so begin a healing process? Another link with modern-day healing therapies?”
Doreen is confident it will be a play which will resonate with present-day audiences. There will be refreshments and an opportunity to discuss the play with the cast after the performance. Donations are invited for the Christ Church refurbishment project and the Chaplaincy Fund at Ford prison.
“Pilgrim Players have been going for about four years now, based at Christ Church. We are an ecumenical group of players, mainly from Christ Church, but some from different churches, some from no church at all. Our aim is to portray Christian truths through drama because drama is such a strong medium. We all have an interest in drama in this lovely city of ours, and we are all very keen to do our bit. We do two productions a year. Drama is such a good medium for the Christian message. It is just such a good way of reaching out to people.”