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Jamie Higgins describes his experience playing Judas in the York Mystery Plays 2012
“I arrived at the audition full of enthusiasm – a chance to make the words of God and Jesus come alive before an audience of 1200, every night for 26 nights. This seemed to me to be one of the most exciting and enduring ways to convey the truth of the Bible and its stories directly into people’s lives. And then I was asked to play Judas, the man who betrays his Lord for 30 pieces of silver.“
That’s how Jamie Higgins (right, with Ferdinand Kingsley who plays Jesus) came to be involved in the York Mystery Plays. A committed Christian, he studied Drama at York University of St John before teaching drama and then spent four years touring with the Riding Lights Theatre Company. He is now a theology student with the Calvary Bible College.
“I gave my life to Jesus as a teenager and was baptised at 17. A year later I started to study drama with no real experience at all,” he explains. “At the beginning it was very daunting but I have always felt that God is there for me, instilling confidence and giving me direction.
“Auditioning for The York Mystery Plays was an easy decision. The Plays are unique, performed by ordinary people since medieval times. They cover the most significant events in humanity, from BC to AD. It is our history that we are communicating through the plays; ordinary people in 2012 are portraying biblical events from the creation to the last judgement.
“This cast is made up of a wide range of people with a variety of beliefs, or none at all, but I have noticed that we’re all thinking deeply about the words. We need to, in order to convey their meaning. Acting is unique in this respect – it differs from reading or listening or visual appreciation because you have to inhabit the character that is speaking in order to be credible and to bring that character alive.
“So the question I had to ask myself was: ‘Would I be able to inhabit Judas?’ I have to admit that I found it difficult at first, to be the one person that is against Jesus at the Last Supper, to be the one that places the ‘kiss’ which identifies Jesus to the arresting soldiers. All I had to go on was what the Gospel accounts tell us, that Satan entered Judas.
“However, I am finding it easier to become invested in the remorse he experiences since I have encountered the same feeling of letting God down in my own faith, and knowing his sacrificial love for me is an extremely useful aid for me as an actor in this role.
Ultimately Judas finds his position difficult to justify. He repents even before Jesus is crucified. He tries to give the money back and offer his own life in payment and in place of Jesus. But Pilate does not want to know. Judas walks away saying: ‘I loathe all of my life’.
“So, after the terrible act of betrayal, I was able to be the Judas that tries to atone for his enormous mistake, regretting all that he had done to hurt someone he loved. We are all sinners in need of a saviour, and it's such a blessing to be able to tell God's story of redemption in such a beautiful and creative setting.
“This is the most marvellous thing about the Plays. They are stories we can believe in because they reflect our own experiences of life. They encompass small and large triumphs, joy, anger, hurt, love, betrayal, irritation, humour, and human suffering.
“I'm sure that everyone taking part and everyone watching the Plays will be affected by them. It is my hope that we will be challenged to think differently about who Jesus is – and that following him isn't about religion but having a personal relationship with the one who made us and knows us intimately.
“The essential elements of this story are God’s love for humanity, and how after 2012 years Jesus Christ is just as relevant and essential to our spiritual condition. Throughout my involvement in the York Mystery Plays, I’ve been reminded that there is no higher joy than knowing Jesus, and the greatest thing I can do on this earth as an actor and a person, is to point others to him, not just the historical Jesus, but the personable Jesus."
(Photos: Kippa Matthews)