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Helsinki stages modernised Way of the Cross re-enactment

The Way of the Cross – the re-enactment of Jesus’ journey on the day of his crucifixion – has become one of the highlights of Easter celebrations among Christians in Finland. Billed as the capital’s biggest open-air theatrical display, the observation marks its 20 anniversary with a contemporary take on the Passion Play.

Via Crucis -näytelmän kenraaliharjoitukset.
Dress rehearsal for the Way of the Cross drama in April 2014. Image: Yle

The creative forces behind the 2015 portrayal of Jesus have decided to update the look, feel and sound of the historical drama to mark the 20th anniversary of the performance in Helsinki.

The Good Friday evening portrayal will feature more professional actors than ever before, with Matti Leino - previously known for his work in High School Musical - taking on the role of Jesus, while the larger-than-life dancer-actor Jorma Uotinen will reprise the role of Herod.

“Almost everyone has some idea of what Jesus is or was or what he should have been. On the other hand if you play a completely fictitious character you have more freedom, but in this case there’s a certain framework that must be respected,” said actor Matti Leino as he described the challenges of the role.

Director Ville Saukkonen is responsible for the present-day re-imagining of the ages-old narrative of Jesus’ travails on the day of his crucifixion.

“We have a new script that was developed especially for the 20 anniversary and it’s well suited to today. There are scenes that reflect our times and because of it the portrayal is closer to today than to the historical truth,” Saukkonen explained.

Apostles re-cast as contemporary characters

Costume designer Tyra Therman skillfully picks up the baton in her approach to clothing the characters.

“The costumes help visualise the characters and bring the apostles and the other performers into the present day. We researched they apostles’ professions and also looked at their roles as saints or patrons today,” Therman said.

“Judas was the manager of the group’s finances, so we made him a businessman. Peter was a fisherman, and that still works today. The group also includes a fan of the hockey club Jokerit – that’s James the son of Jacob Alphaeus,” she added.

The score for the passion play was written by jazz pianist and composer Heikki Sarmanto, who developed a new version of the song Hosanna for the occasion. It will be given two different interpretations: one by soprano Essi Wuorela and another by the Helsinki philharmonic orchestra.

This year’s Good Friday Stations of the Cross performance begins in downtown Helsinki at the Kaisaniemi Park from 9.30 pm. The performers’ route will take them past the Bank of Finland to the Helsinki Cathedral where the staged crucifixion will take place. The Way of the Cross is re-enacted in cities across Finland and typically draws an audience of several thousands in the capital.

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