The Narrow Road

A few online steps along the route to Easter

The Narrow Road is our Passion play for 2020. We can’t bring you the play but we can give you some glimpses into this production, which was fully rehearsed up to the moment when it would have been loaded into a van and sent off across the country.

The dress rehearsal was its first and last performance in Friargate Theatre. Then we pressed ‘pause’.  Over the next few weeks, we’ll try to give you some windows into this excellent Passion Play by Paul Birch.

The Narrow Road Virtual Tour Part 4

Who are you and which parts did you play?

My name is Johnny and I played Ben Ami, Nicodemus, Barabbas, Judas and one of the pilgrim travellers on The Road.

What is your favourite part of the play?

There’s a great scene between Barabbas and Caiaphas the High Priest.  It’s full of the twists and turns of manipulation, as each man seeks some leverage over the other, while getting around the fact that they heartily detest one another. Bartering with a terrorist like Barabbas is new territory for Caiaphas but he knows he needs inside information.   Caiaphas’s bargaining chip is an offer to keep Barabbas from being arrested and killed by the Roman authorities.  What he wants in return is that they work together on the basis of a common hatred of Jesus.  A fragile and unlikely alliance but, as the Road winds inexorably towards the crucifixion, it creates a significant momentum within the play.












What did you learn during the process?

I learned about the difficulty of excavating such a rich text from the added perspective of faith. It meant so much to me beyond the acting and the stagecraft and I wanted to do it justice.  The more I pored over it, the more it began ‘to land’, to bring insights that illuminated my personal journey, as well as the journey of each of my characters.


What made you laugh most in rehearsals?

Laughing at John Holden-White’s outrageous stylistic improvisations with his costume.  Very unfair to appear, when you’re least expecting it, with his shirt turned up into a crop top and his strange trousers gathered into … well, only he knows what he was trying to achieve there!


The Narrow Road Virtual Tour Part 3

Who are you and who did you play in The Narrow Road?

Hi, I’m Simon Rodda and I played Jesus in The Narrow Road. 

What is your favourite part of the play?

When Jesus is praying, talking to his father, in the garden of Gethsemane. The gospel account tells us that all the disciples fell asleep while Jesus was praying ‘in agony’, so we have to use our imagination about most of what Jesus was saying.  Perfect for an actor, of course, and hugely helped by the language Paul Birch uses to paint vivid pictures of what might have gone through Jesus’s mind in the hours before he was arrested.

The speech starts with the famous cry to God: ‘Father, take this cup away from me,’ but the speech is then peppered with stories from the Old Testament (the ‘sacrifice’ of Abraham’s son Isaac) and what Jesus may himself have witnessed as a child growing up under Roman rule. The night in Gethsemane, where a man is sweating blood while praying to his Father in heaven, combines Jesus’s humanity and his divinity most starkly.

JESUS:       We worked, Joseph and I. His door always open. His tools always allowed in my hands. But…one day the door was shut. My mother pleading with the soldiers outside. Joseph arguing inside with a man whose face I could not see. There were threats. My mother dragged by her hair. The shouting stopped and my father put to work. No scripture passed his lips as he shaped the beams of the crosses. The crosses bound and shaped for the road that leads to this City of Peace.

© 2010 Paul Birch


What did you learn during the process?
I found this challenge of playing a character that is both God and man gave me insights into what Jesus was facing and also lessons about my own humanity. The following are a few lines of thought I pondered on as I tried to create Jesus on stage: someone who has complete authority yet is wonderfully personable; a man who works miracles but needs his time away from the crowd; a man committed to obeying the will of God but who knows he still has a choice.

What made you laugh most in rehearsals?
On what turned out to be our last day, once we had been told that the tour couldn’t go ahead, we all agreed that we would continue to rehearse and perform the show in the evening for a small audience, including those that had put so much work into getting this show off the ground. The show went very well and was a privilege to perform. However, after the crucifixion scene, as we had rehearsed many times before, I got carried off stage by my colleagues.  This time, my head smacked on a wooden step and made a booming sound. I was fine but, perhaps owing to the heightened situation or emotion, I couldn’t stop laughing (as quietly as I could) during a solemn moment of reflection. It felt like a fitting prelude to the resurrection scene!

The Narrow Road Virtual Tour Part 2

Miriam Swainsbury answers some questions about working as an actor on The Narrow Road.     

Who are you and who did you play in The Narrow Road?

Hi, I’m Miriam, alongside a modern pilgrim in the Holy Land, I played the disciple Thaddeus, Mother, Old Shepherd, Demon-Possessed Woman, Sana (the woman at the well), Guard and the Gethsemane Angel.

What is your favourite part of the play?

It’s arriving at the river Jordan, the baptisms and then the boat scene on the sea of Galilee. For the travelling pilgrims, this is a chance to enjoy the cool, refreshing water after a long trek. It is also the most joyful sequence – as the disciples watch Jesus heal sick people, tell a parable about fishing and release a demon-possessed woman back to her true self, to peace.


JESUS:              I want to give you rest. You are a fisherman, Peter. As you say, good with your hands. And I will make you fishers of men. Will you follow me?

PETER:              (Excited) I will, Rabbi.

JESUS:               Then come to me. Take my yoke upon you. Learn from me. I am not so terrifying, am I?

PETER:              You? (Laughs) No.

PETER is baptized.

JESUS:               This water is your Jordan. I am your land. I am your inheritance. I am your promise. I am your rest. Do you understand this, Peter?

PETER:              My head doesn’t but my gut does. That’s what usually serves me best.

© 2010 Paul Birch


What did you learn during the process?

I learnt the value of being open and adaptable. I came back to this production for the third time and yet it was so different because of the impact made by our two new cast members. That’s half the cast!  Each actor brings something distinctive and that keeps the whole performance alive.


I also learnt how much the times we live in affect the poignancy of the work we do. When we performed our first and last show to a small audience at Friargate Theatre the day before the coronavirus shutdown, a lot of the text suddenly felt incredibly relevant to these unsettling times we are all faced with. It was also threaded through with hope.

What made you laugh most in rehearsals?

A lot of things. I am guilty of getting the giggles quite easily in rehearsal, so it is quite hard to choose what made me laugh the most. There was one afternoon when we were working on the Last Supper, when everything made me laugh. Breaking custard cream biscuits instead of bread made it very hard to keep a straight face!


The Narrow Road Virtual Tour Part 1

We start with a post from the director, Erin Burbridge:

Even after directing the 2019 version, this production felt completely different. I was delighted to discover much more about each scene and character, working with four actors who were very generous with their ideas.  They also nodded patiently and went along gracefully with each bizarre metaphor I used to inspire their performances or just to create sense of ‘play’ in the rehearsal room. We had fun.

What’s the story?

The Road is a journey through contemporary Israel/Palestine made by three pilgrims who encounter some of the events of the life of Jesus as they reach the places where these took place. The road is the journey through the varied landscapes of the Holy Land but it is also the person of Jesus himself, as he lives out and marks out the road which he calls his disciples to walk with him, both then and now.

The journey tracks right back to a pregnant mother under the stars on the road to Bethlehem.  It winds its way on towards Jesus’s encounters with individuals from different walks of life, to ministry alongside his disciples in Galilee, to Gethsemane, his trial before Pilate, to the crucifixion. Finally the play ends on the road to Emmaus.

Though we know nothing about their faith or background, the three pilgrims are engaging figures.  We see them interact viscerally with the landscape around them and with the intense events into which they are plunged. They represent us, the audience, trying to make sense of this journey.  I loved working with Miriam, John and Johnny as they morphed seamlessly from one person to another.

Your favourite part of the play?

Lots of bits obviously – but Miriam and Simon’s playing of the scene between Jesus and the Samaritan woman who comes alone in the heat of the day to Jacob’s well, often had me fighting back a few tears. The scene begins in a tense atmosphere – the woman is shocked by this unprecedented approach from a Jewish rabbi making conversation with her. Despite her sharp, nervous responses, Jesus’s offer to her of living water remains clear and uncompromising. As the scene concludes, when she realises who she’s talking to, the sense of release, of jubilation was infectious. It swept me up every time!

SANA           You have nothing to draw water with.


JESUS         I have you. (He drinks) Thank you. It is good water. Sweet. But anyone who drinks this will be thirsty again. Yet, whoever I give water to, Samaritan or Jew, will not thirst again because my water becomes a spring, becomes a well, becomes life itself. Eternal life in a dying place.

SANA           Sir…give me this water. Please, I…I don’t want to come back.


                   You are a prophet! My people worshipped on this mountain. I am forbidden to go to the Temple. Jerusalem. I cannot follow you there!

JESUS         A time is coming when true worshippers will worship in a place called ‘spirit and truth’. This temple has no walls.  This is what God wants.  This is the road he offers.

SANA           I know the Messiah is coming. To make this happen.

JESUS         You have faith. Salvation. The world will be changed.

SANA           You told me everything I ever did. Tell me when he is coming.

JESUS         Here. Now. Speaking honestly with you.

© 2010 Paul Birch


What did you learn in this process?

One thing that was very profound for me was exploring the humanity of Jesus alongside his divinity as Son of God. The play introduces Jesus in the temple as a thirteen year-old boy, taking two elders to task on a technicality of the Law about resurrection. It’s a funny, warm and engaging scene – a brilliant way to introduce us to Jesus at an age when he is still wide-eyed and youthful. Simon’s fantastic portrayal of this moment produced more laughter than we were expecting at our only performance!


What made you laugh the most during rehearsals?

All four actors have a passion for tea that I just don’t share.  I’ll drink tea if I’m cold.  The extraordinary excitement on everyone’s faces when tea was mentioned… by the Jordan, on the sea of Galilee, in Capernaum, or wherever… gave me some good giggles.