Choose a character from the passion story and look back on the events of Jesus entry into Jerusalem. Bring the story up-to-date and make it particularly relevant to Edinburgh. That was the brief going into yesterday’s Palm Sunday Stooshie (Stooshie is a Scots word for a furore, a fracas or a bit of a fuss). From the off, I knew I wanted to take on the character of Pontius Pilate. I have no idea why – perhaps because I’m always drawn to dubious characters!
I did my piece on a rainy and windswept Castle esplanade – the seat of power right behind me. Other performers told their tales in suitably evocative places. St Giles made a good stand-in for the temple. We met a gravedigger in Greyfriars kirkyard and other characters in secluded courtyards and hidden gardens. We finished our journey in the Grassmarket at the old place of execution, where a cross marks the spot where the gallows once stood and Jesus (or Sarah as we usually know her!) told us of his great love.
Here’s Pilate’s reflections … in the form of an email to his boss.
To : Emperor Tiberius Caesar (email@example.com)
From : Pilate, Prefect of Judea
Subject : Report on Latest Attempted Judean Uprising – Private and Confidential
Your most eminent Grace,
Greetings from Jerusalem. I have much to report from recent days.
As you are no doubt aware, the locals here in Judea have recently been gripped by yet another bout of nationalist fever. They continue to believe that, inconsequential as they are, they would be able to function as an independent nation. Preposterous of course, they have neither the military power nor the resources to function on a Global stage, yet they continue to resist the peace and protection of Rome.
Much of this foolishness is fuelled by an almost religious fervour that has little to do with the functioning of their strange temple practices, which do remain entirely under our discretion and control.
The people continue to put their hopes in one prospective ruler after another, who arrive at the city supported by a small group of radicals, who make jingoistic speeches hoping to gain followers, raise armies and find the financial backing to buy weapons. Of course our security services are not unaware of these cells, we have sent people to infiltrate their inner circles, to gather information and we squash any rebellion before it can take root. This is a cycle seemingly doomed to repetition. I felt the cycle could be broken, however, if by some means we were able to control one of these so-called leaders we would have a tame prophet of our own. They would retain their popularity but effectively neuter their political ambition. They could continue to make their populist speeches and youTube videos, but if we were able to influence the message, their energies could be directed in a more profitable direction.
The most promising candidate was in the city during the recent festival, we had been following him for some time and I had hopes that this one might be of use to us. His rhetoric was subtly different from that of his predecessors, more interested in peace than war – an aim we share. He was indeed on his way to gaining a large following and I had hoped he might have been amenable to a deal. An impressive title perhaps and some small devolution of powers, in return for his unquestioning support of ultimate Roman rule.
You have never visited the city during the festival time but it can be a maelstrom of emotion and it is teeming with people. You can barely see down the street for jugglers and student theatre companies but behind the celebration is always a subversive undercurrent. It can be a difficult time to keep the peace. He arrived in the city at the head of a political rally that I might have thought was a performance art piece instead. Usually, whenever an idealistic leader of rebellion enters the city, it is on the biggest war horse he can find, and with as many burly armed men as he can afford. This one, this Jesus, arrived on a donkey with a choir of children and a flotilla of women handing out tree branches.
Though bewildering to me, his street theatre certainly proved popular enough with the city. He made as much impact as if he had arrived with a whole legion of his own. His downfall was in angering the temple authorities. No more than a few days later I had the chance to meet with him in person as they brought him before me. The charges they wished to lay against him were ridiculous. I couldn’t fathom them at all. Something to do with the technicalities of their strange religion.
Nevertheless, I was able to question him with the aim of establishing an agreement between us. It soon became clear to me that he would not be manipulated, in fact, he would not be moved at all. I offered him a clear way out of his predicament and he refused to take it. I hinted that I could be of use to him against his enemies, he remained silent. In the end, I had to accept that he would be of no use to us. It was with regret that I had him crucified, but necessary, just as with any other usurper who comes along and wants to be King of the Jews. It’s always the same with these idealistic types, no idea of the compromises necessary for leadership, of what might be expedient and no sense of self-preservation whatsoever. Another independence attempt over with for now, we must simply await the next one and hopefully I will discharge that with as little fuss.