A giant shipping container unloaded yesterday at Souter Lighthouse, South Shields, was just one indication that The Great North Passion will be an unconventional telling of the Easter story.
Also present were The Futureheads – well, half of them – and photographer Julian Germain. Patrick Murphy, from Barnsley, was braving the cold with other artists.
As many people give up things for Lent, all were girding their loins for six weeks of intense activity leading up to Good Friday when they, and hundreds of volunteers from around the region, will be part of an ambitious BBC broadcast.
The Great North Passion – to be broadcast live on BBC1 on Good Friday – is a contemporary retelling of the Passion story, marking the last hours of Jesus’ life.
It was commissioned by the BBC in partnership with The Cultural Spring, part of an Arts Council initiative aimed at areas of the country where few get involved in the arts.
As you read this, containers similar to the one you see here will be arriving in a dozen North East communities, most of them in Sunderland and South Tyneside.
Each container represents one of the Stations of the Cross, marking significant points along Jesus’ last painful journey. Throughout Lent, the artists assigned to each container will be working with local groups to transform them artistically in various different ways.
The 12 containers will then be transported to Bents Park, South Shields, where they will be joined by 38 others – unadorned – to form a giant cross and be the centrepiece of the hour-long Easter broadcast.
Patrick Murphy said: “I’m working with ex-miners and a group at Ashington Children’s Centre.
“Our installation is Station 10, where Christ gets stripped of his garments. That sounds depressing but we’re also looking at themes of hope, resilience, strength and courage.
“I had a great meeting with the ex-miners yesterday. Our installation will look at the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike and the decline of coal but it will also be about hope and the strength expressed by today’s community groups.”
Patrick said his container, to be based at Woodhorn but also to travel about, will feature a neon sign, clog dancers and a 30ft table to represent domestic life and to feature stories supplied by local people.
The Futureheads’ Ross Millard and Jaff Craig, who will be based at St Bede’s Community Association in Sunderland’s Town End Farm, said they were planning a “sound collage” with recordings made by volunteers, augmented by artwork done by local schoolchildren.
Photographer Julian Germain, involved in a project at Sunderland Minster, said he was planning an installation based on people’s photo albums.
Rebecca Ball, project director of The Cultural Spring, said The Great North Passion marked the start of a three-year programme designed to benefit people in 10 wards in Sunderland and South Tyneside.