Oberammergau Passion Play 2022
Gasthof Rose Hotel **
The less said about the journey from Innsbruck to Oberammergau, the better. Two and a half hours became five and a half hours and the two Rail Replacement bus services left Britain as clear winners in this most hated form of public transport. However, the Rose was ready for me, they gave me my ticket and the English text book, a quick sausage and potato salad and then I got to the theatre in time to buy a Passion Play t-shirt to impress my friends and to save my neighbours from the authentic smells of my existing wardrobe.
Just a few brief words about the play in case you’ve not done your homework. The Plague struck Oberammergau in 1633 and the locals made a deal with the Almighty: no more deaths and we perform a Passion Play every 10 years. The Almighty kept his side of the bargain and so have the villagers. So every 10 years they perform five times per week from May to October to 4500 people in the theatre who have come from all over the world. The entire 5000 population is involved, about 2500 performing and the rules state that you must be born in Oberammergau or have lived here at least 20 years to participate (except for the 100 piece symphony orchestra). This history makes the Passion Play a phenomenon. It’s the world’s biggest am-dram production.
Today the temperature reached 35 degrees but the stage is open to a spectacular view of the Bavarian Alps and the audience is covered. There is a refreshing breeze and as I looked up into the hills I was glad not to be walking today. Everyone gets about 10 local flies of their own which means around 45000 in the theatre.
The first thing you notice is that the floor in the auditorium slopes down to the stage. I put my bottle of water down and it immediately toppled over and began rolling forward. Fortunately it jammed by the woman’s handbag in front and as my neighbours hadn’t yet arrived, I was able to lie down and reach under the seat between her feet and retrieve it. Others were less fortunate. A bottle of Fanta rolled under my seat as Jesus was clearing the traders from the Temple and I helped it on its way.
At the moment I’m dining back at the Rose, half way through the 5 hour performance. Whatever it lacks in quality it sure makes up in quantity. Up to 800 on the stage plus assorted sheep, goats, donkey and horses. The moment when Jesus cleared the Temple will live with me forever. James Cameron or Andrew Lloyd Webber couldn’t match the chaos as the Messiah kicked the basket holding the pigeons who all flew away into Bavaria on cue!
The play works well in German. I hardly need refer to the text because I know the story, having played some of the parts at school. Acting was not my forte so I never got the big roles like Jesus or Judas but I made Thomas my own and I also played Pontius Pilate which called for a certain finesse, lacking in the other boys. We got better as the years passed, particularly after most of the boys left, and we were decades ahead of ourselves in terms of gender reversal. Quite modern, really.
We’ve already had the Last Supper and it’s only half time. I hope the audience can participate in the calls for a crucifixion.
The young German lady next to me said she was surprised to see so many foreigners in Oberammergau and she asked me if the play was well known in London. I assured her that it was the dream of most God fearing Brits to come to Oberammergau for the Passion Play and that I would be the envy of everyone in The Jolly Farmer on my return.