This year's plays centre on the theme "Whom do you seek?", inspired by the medieval Quem Quaeritis Easter liturgy in which the angels ask that very question to the three women who come to Jesus' tomb.
In chapter 25 of the Gospel of John, Jesus asks Mary Magdalene: "Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?"
It is a question of deep significance, as Christians believe that humans are intrinsically made to be seeking persons, to desire a fulfilment that can only ultimately be satisfied by intimacy with the Father because we were born out of the perfect relationship of the Trinity.
Co-writer Mark Lovelady says he hopes that people from all walks of life will be inspired to consider the question in depth through the plays.
"'Whom do you seek?' is a very powerful question for today," he asserts.
"We all search for something greater than ourselves at some point in our lives. We hope that the Liverpool Passion Plays will really strike a chord with all of those who are currently asking these questions of themselves."
The plays will use the historic building to dramatise the events of Holy Week over four consecutive nights. Scenes will include the Last Supper, Jesus' trial and his crucifixion. For the first time ever, the plays will also depict the Resurrection.
Co-writer Dan Bishop, who will also direct the plays, spoke to Christian Today about this year's performances.
DB: We chose 'Whom do you seek?' to ask a question, because obviously there's a lot of unanswered questions after the crucifixion, and there's questions asked of the audience all through Acts 1, 2, and 3, and hopefully they are answered at the end of Act 4 [the resurrection]! So 'Whom do you seek?' is used to entice people really, but also to ask a question of the audience before they come to the final performance.
CT: How are you making the plays relevant to an unchurched audience?
DB: We want to present the story in a modern way, and in a way that is perhaps more accessible. We've done it like promenade theatre, so we've used every space of the cathedral that's big enough, and the audience follow the action round and sometimes become a part of the crowds who were present at the events that led up to the crucifixion.
CT: Who came up with the initial ideas?
DB: We decided we'd like the cathedral youth group, the Overcrofters, to write or come up with the ideas for the plays and really take ownership of it. We had a lot of workshops in the cathedral after hours, and we played out ideas that might work, then obviously discounted some and Mark and I wrote down the ones we thought we could go with. We had a development team which took those ideas and discussed them, then Mark and I spent time writing the script together.
CT: What are the challenges of putting on such a large-scale production?
DB: The big challenge we had last year was that we just didn't know how many people we would get coming to see it, and we were very pleasantly surprised when a couple of hundred turned up on the first night and maybe an extra hundred on the second night. On the third night we wanted to do the trial scene in the Lay chapel because it's a lovely, intimate space, which would have given us the closed atmosphere of a trial, but we had to move it back up to the main cathedral because we had too big an audience.
Another difficulty is making sure everyone can see everything that we want them to. The cathedral is a great blessing in many ways because we can use different spaces – we can have the Garden of Gethsemane in the side chapel and the crucifixion on the hill or on the knave bridge - but the problem is making sure the audience can see everything in those spaces. But we've learned some lessons for this year!
CT: What are your expectations for this year's production?
DB: Last year, the cast and crew brought a fresh look to the story of Christ's passion to an audience of more than 400 on the final night. This year the inclusion of the resurrection scenes should create a completely new experience for those that attended last year, and we hope to attract even more people.
The response we had from audience numbers last year was pretty overwhelming, so I imagine we will build on last year's audience numbers, and hope to welcome more people to the productions.
Acts 1-3 of the Passion plays will take place between 14 and 16 April, while the story of the resurrection will be told on Saturday 19. All performances are free, and all members of the public are welcome. People are also invited to attend Choral Evensong at 5.30pm before the performances begin at 6.30pm.