Easter in Hell: the Passion, in Occupied Palestine, told from Satan’s perspective

The Devil’s Passion, by award-winning playwright and actor Justin Butcher, arrives in Malta in March to play at St Paul’s Pro-Cathedral, Valletta

Justin Butcher in The Devil’s Passion
Justin Butcher in The Devil’s Passion

The Devil’s Passion, by award-winning playwright and actor Justin Butcher, arrives in Malta in March to tells the greatest story of all, the Passion of Christ, but told from Satan’s perspective.

The radically fresh perspective on the timeless narrative is an audacious hell’s-eye view, by turns comic, gripping, poetic and heart-stirring. Exploring themes of good and evil, religious extremism, freedom, rebellion, life, death, and much more, The Devil’s Passion is both timeless and strikingly modern, an original and riveting production shining a new light on the Easter story. 

Framed satirically against a contemporary ‘War on Terror’ backdrop, this 90-minute one-man show tears open key issues of the time: the Annunciation is depicted as the ‘radicalisation’ of a 15-year old schoolgirl, through whom ‘the Enemy enters in’; Satan’s battle is waged in defence of the ‘gates’ of ‘our civilisation’ against the ‘enemies of freedom’; through an Occupied Palestine bristling with checkpoints, walls, razor-wire fences and watchtowers, Jesus heads to Jerusalem on a 'suicide mission’.

Finally discerning Jesus’ plan – to die, to assault the gates of hell itself – Satan enlists the audience to join him in averting disaster: he must do all he can to keep Jesus alive or risk being destroyed.

Part espionage thriller, part satire, part poetic meditation, or Homeland-meets-Mistero Buffo-meets-Dante’s Inferno, set in a ‘Holy Land’ characterised by harsh divisions, barriers, walls, alienation, between hated Roman occupier and indigenous peoples, between Jew and Samaritan, clean and unclean, slave and free, ‘righteous’ and ‘sinner’, everyone here is imprisoned tidily in their boxes, a state of affairs which the diabolical narrator finds entirely satisfactory. Until, right from the heart of this suffocating, intractable scenario, the Passion story erupts. A radical, transgressive story of love transcending fear and hatred, of non-violence in the face of oppression, hope breaking down barriers, the victory of vulnerability.

 “Sometimes the timing of things can feel weird, even fated,” says Justin Butcher. “A few years ago, I attempted to write a play drawing together my fascination with the Passion story with my involvement for many years in the Palestinian people’s struggle for freedom, justice and equality in the Holy Land.

“Another important influence was the work of the extraordinary Italian theatre maestro Dario Fo, satirist, playwright, actor, clown, commedia genius, who’s been a lifelong inspiration in my work, in particular his comic, subversive reworking of biblical narratives, Mistero Buffo (the Comic Mysteries) – which outraged the Catholic church when it premiered in 1969 (the year I was born). So these ingredients alchemised somehow and produced The Devil’s Passion – a passion play set in an occupied Palestine, and told by the devil.”                                  

The Devil’s Passion was adapted 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.’ 

The play is directed by Olivier Award winner Guy Masterson (MorecambeTwelve Angry MenThe Shark Is Broken), designed by Sean Cavanagh (The Miracle WorkerIn Praise Of LoveYork Mystery Plays 2012) with a haunting and evocative soundscape by Jack C. Arnold (War and PeaceWild RoseHoly Flying CircusThe Woman in Black), richly textured video design by Damian Hale & Christian Krupa (The Chemical BrothersU2Elton JohnLittle Britain) and boldly atmospheric lighting by Tom Turner (ItaipuBat Out Of HellSwan Lake). 

The Devil’s Passion plays on Tuesday and Wednesday 12-013th at 8pm at the St Paul’s Pro-Cathedral, Valletta.