THE biggest religious event of its kind ever staged in South Tyneside will bring the story of The Passion to life in spectacular fashion for millions of worshippers across Britain this Easter.
Featuring shipping containers representing the Stations of the Cross, The Great North Passion in Bents Park, South Shields, will be the BBC’s flagship Easter broadcast on Good Friday, April 18.
Thousands of people are set to attend the live broadcast, which will also be the launch event for the £2m Cultural Spring, an Arts Council initiative aimed at getting South Tynesiders and people in Sunderland more involved in the arts.
The story of the last moments of Jesus’s life will be brought vividly to life at South Shields seafront, the one-hour broadcast using shipping containers, which are intended to stand as high as St Paul’s Cathedral if stacked one on top of another.
The containers will be brought together in Bents Park to create a huge, cross-shaped installation, helping worshippers and viewers to better understand The Passion, including Christ’s trial, suffering and death.
Coun Alan Kerr, deputy leader of South Tyneside Council, said: “We are delighted and proud to host this national event in South Tyneside.
“The BBC took into consideration our excellent track record in hosting and staging major events like the Great North Run and our summer festival concerts.
“The Great North Passion producers realised Bents Park is the perfect venue for such a live broadcast.
“Our experienced event staff are used to providing logistical support for major events, and the BBC were impressed by their ‘can do’ attitude.
“We are already working very hard with The Cultural Spring and the BBC to ensure the Great North Passion will be a success, and it’s great to think the eyes of the nation will again be on the borough for a major national event.”
The Cultural Spring, whose partners are the Customs House, South Shields, University of Sunderland and the Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture Quarter Trust, covers 10 wards across South Tyneside and Sunderland.
In the borough, these include Biddick Hall and All Saints, Boldon Colliery, Cleadon and East Boldon, Whitburn and Marsden and Whiteleas.
Rebecca Ball, project director for the Cultural Spring, added: “We’re delighted to be working with the BBC on the Great North Passion; a fantastic free event in Bents Park, South Shields, that will also be enjoyed by millions on TV on Good Friday.
“The Cultural Spring was set up to ensure as many people as possible from South Tyneside and Sunderland get to see, take part in, create and enjoy great arts projects.
“What better way to launch our three-year programme than with this fantastic partnership with the BBC.”
Cultural Spring chairman Graeme Thompson said: “The event will provide a spectacular launchpad for our project and we’re really grateful to the council for their amazing help and support.”
For the past few years, the BBC has staged Passion plays in outside settings with the involvement of local communities.
In 2006, actor and singer Keith Allen played Pontius Pilate in the Manchester Passion, while in the Preston Passion, in 2012, the role was taken by Miranda comedy star Tom Ellis.