Passion play at Easter

2011-04-19 00:00

MALCOLM Ayers plays Caiaphas in the 13th Durban Passion Play, which is being staged by the Durban Catholic­ Players Guild, in association with the Playhouse Company, at the Playhouse Drama Theatre until Sunday.

The play is the culmination of seven­ months of commitment from the more than 150-strong cast, including Ayres, who plays the role of the Roman-appointed Jewish head priest, who was very much behind the plot to kill Jesus and was involved in his trial. It could be argued that Caiaphas was probably the real villain of the piece.

“He was the nasty gang leader as such,” says Ayres. “He certainly seems to be the one stirring the pot a bit. It’s actually a lovely part to play, with 57 speaking opportunities (I counted them), so I’m on and off the stage all the time.”

This is Ayres’s fourth appearance in the Durban Passion Play.

“I’ve graduated a bit,” he says, “the first time around I was one of the lictors flogging Christ, then I was a junior priest and then Pontius Pilate­. Perhaps Caiaphas is a demotion from Pilate, however.”

Since his 1966 debut as a stock-still British bobby who never said a word, Ayres has been involved in a variety of theatre, but says the Durban­ Passion Play is something special, something different.

“It’s an amazing difference from doing comedy, or other types of drama­, to doing this show. When you’re on stage and involved, you’re taken back to that time and you see what he [Jesus] went through. You see the effect it has. There are tears streaming down the faces of [the] cast and [the] audience.

“And there is a commitment from the public. People travel from miles away, coming from afar by bus. That in itself is a blessing — to be given the opportunity of preaching (for want of a better word) a message. I’ll continue until I can’t get up on stage. Even then I know they didn’t have wheelchairs back then, but maybe someone can bear me on a litter.”

Ayres’s connection with the Durban­ Passion Play came about when a colleague asked him if he could use his truck to move a theatre­ set from the then Napac workshop in Mayville to the Playhouse. Ayres happily obliged and then his colleague said: “You’ve done theatre — we really need you.” Cue some masterly arm twisting which resulted in his reintroduction to the stage after a six-year break.

Being part of the play involves a lot of commitment.

“It takes some getting used to and working things around a lot, but if it’s something you want to do then … Anyway I have a wonderful wife who grills and coaches me. Heaven forbid I get my words wrong,” says Ayres.

• Tickets for the Durban Passion Play can be booked through Computicket.

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