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Home  >  News  >  'With Arms Wide Open'


'With Arms Wide Open'

Saturday March 27 2021

Participant's in this year's Drama Kirk Passion Play, which will be shown online, describe the challenges of filming under coronavirus restrictions.

David McKee as Pontius Pilate in the Passion Play With Arms Wide Open

Lockdown could never stop Easter – and it certainly hasn’t stopped Hamilton-based Drama Kirk bringing the story to life with their Passion Play, which has been filmed for broadcast over YouTube.

A Passion Play traditionally tells the story of the last week of Jesus’ life, however this year’s play has a fresh perspective, it is told through the eyes of the Gospel writer Luke, putting Jesus’ story together years after his death.

Liz Blackman, who has directed the short film, said: “We needed a script for this year that was quite different to anything we had performed in the past – something which could easily be adapted to social distancing, with a small number of people in each scene.

"I was delighted to find 'With Arms Wide Open' by American actor Peggy Barnell. The script is around 20 years old but is really fresh in its approach. We see Luke finding out about how Jesus changed people – and we hear his views on what many of Jesus’ teachings meant. For us, this feels like a much more direct way of sharing the Gospel story.”

Parts of the story of Jesus’ life are told in a series of flashbacks, which allowed the group to film safely in small groups to show a range of biblical scenes.

Stewart Tweedlie, Elder at Cadzow Parish Church plays Andrew. He said: “For me filming is a second prize compared to a live performance but it is still a prize well worth having. The opportunity to explore and perform scripture during the pandemic was so gratifying and the work done to keep the cast safe was thorough. The adrenaline rush maybe not quite there nor the chance for feedback but as ever I loved being involved.”

Scottish Government guidelines state that filming can only go ahead out of doors, which presented the group with fresh challenges. Thankfully the weather was kind over the four days of filming in February.  The involvement of several households enabled some physical contact within some scenes, helping to make the film seem more natural.

There were a number of other challenges in filming under current restrictions, where necessity became the mother of invention, such as duplicating props to ensure no two people had to touch the same thing.

Mhairi MacLean from Hamilton Old Parish Church, who has played Mary Magdalene in all five Passion Plays, said: “This time a year ago we were progressing nicely with rehearsals for our 4th Passion play when Lockdown struck. Fast forward a year and we are still in Lockdown and faced the many challenges of performing this year’s play without an audience and following the strict Covid rules!

"So how can we portray all the feelings and emotions when we have to stay two metres apart? And what about anointing the Lord’s feet? It was suggested we use our spouses as body doubles, but my husband does not have an acting bone in his body - his words! Step forward the lovely Angela (wife of professional actor Nicholas Elliott who plays Jesus) and with the skills of our wonderful Wardrobe Mistress Marilyn, who dyed duplicate costumes, we were able to film this important scene.

"Without having the experience of the previous years' performances and the trust and rapport that has built up over those years I doubt I would’ve been able to express the emotions required for my scenes. It was, as always,  an honour and privilege to work with such a dedicated production team on such a wonderful project.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge was filming the upper room where the iconic last supper took place.

Fortunately, the Rev Ross Blackman, minister at Hamilton Old Parish Church, was previously a joiner. He says, “Building an outdoor set of an indoor scene was a challenge. Fortunately it didn’t rain or that would have given the game away!”

The group look forward to sharing their film over Easter and love the opportunity to share the gospel in this creative way.

David McKee, an elder at Mossneuk Parish Church in East Kilbride and a candidate in training for ministry, has taken on the role of Pontius Pilate. He said: “Drama Kirk is such a great way to engage people in the Church. I am very interested in new ways that folk may be involved outwith a “traditional” Sunday and I think Drama Kirk does that brilliantly. I always feel that people nowadays are sometimes wary / scared of the Church. We are living in quite a secular world. However, say that person likes Drama - wants to be involved - and finds out how enjoyable a Church group can be, then it breaks down barriers.”

Further information can be found at or on twitter @PlayLanarkshire. “With Arms Wide Open” will be broadcast on YouTube on Easter Saturday (April 3) at 2pm at 

Drama Kirk is a Church of Scotland GoForIt funded fresh expression of church.

From tomorrow (Sunday), travel through Holy Week with daily reflections, written for Life and Work by the Rev Roddy Hamilton.

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