ORGANISERS of the Winchester Passion have revealed who will play Jesus in the open air spectacular.

Israel Oyelumade, a professional with experience in London's West End, is taking on the role.

He enjoyed stage success last year with his portrayal of anti-slavery campaigner Olouda Equiano in African Snow.

He has also performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company and is an ambassador of The Prince's Trust.

Winchester Passion spokesman, Philip Tutt, added: "It is apparent that the immense technical and physical demands of the role require a professional actor.

"The intense rehearsal schedule for the production, which sees Jesus taking part in almost every scene, means that it would be impossible for someone to combine the role with a job or study commitments.

"All the other members of the remarkably talented cast are actors and actresses from local churches, amateur companies, universities and sixth-form colleges."

The Hampshire performers taking part include Mike Carson, a businessman from St Cross, who will play Pontius Pilate.

Simon Irwin, who is a lay clerk at Winchester Cathedral, will be joining him in the limelight as Herod.

It was also revealed this week that composer, Sir John Taverner, has agreed to write some music for the Winchester Passion. It will include a choral piece performed by the Waynflete Singers.

The show is taking place on March 21, which is Good Friday, and will be the first passion play in Winchester for 30 years.

It promises to be more spectacular than its 1970s equivalent, which was a smaller affair at the city's cathedral.

The 2008 version is likely to feature bustling markets, pyrotechnics and military vehicles.

Several Winchester landmarks including Oram's Arbour, The Great Hall and the cathedral are being used for the show.

The cast is expected to number more than 300, with similar amounts of technicians and stewards.

The organisers hope that several thousand will watch the free show, which is costing around £50,000 to stage.

To promote the event, an all-day symposium is being held in the Stripe Theatre at the University of Winchester on Saturday, February 23.

Entitled Presenting the Passion it will feature talks from academics, clerics and writers, who will examine previous passion plays and the upcoming show in Winchester.

The event runs from 10am to 5pm and tickets cost £8, which includes lunch. They can be bought at the Winchester Cathedral box office or P&G Wells bookshop in College Street.

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