How it’s about it, by Ben Jeapes

Photo by Andy Teo @Photocillin
The deadline on my mind right now isn’t my next blog piece on March 10th - it’s what happens three days later. March 13th will see the second ever Abingdon Passion Play. It’s community theatre with involvement from many churches, schools and secular organisations: an original script with specially composed songs integrated into the action. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to be part of it.

I got into the first Abingdon Passion Play in 2013 more or less by accident (and wrote about it here); it was exhilarating but so overwhelming that I resolved if there was a next time, I would sing and that was it. And I’ve stuck to it.

A Passion Play is an interesting example of storytelling where everyone already knows the story. And yet it’s not like comparing Olivier’s Henry with Branagh’s Henry - different takes on a canonical script. It’s more like comparing Guinness’s Smiley with Oldman’s Smiley - both interpretations of an existing story. Or, it’s like a pantomime or a piece of religious music - everyone knows all the elements to expect, but they come out of curiosity to see what you’re going to do with them. As movie critic Roger Ebert liked to say, what’s important isn’t what a movie is about, it's how it is about it.

(A pantomime Passion Play would be fun, though. He is risen! Oh no he isn’t! Oh yes he is! Where is he, then? He’s behind you! And so on.)

So, while the 2013 Passion Play was a promenade performance at different locations around the town park, this will be performed in one place with minimal props - the market square, with Abingdon County Hall as a backdrop to the stage. In the first play the story was told entirely through dialogue and narrative drive, each scene leading logically into the next, while this time the story is narrated by a group of storytellers, the women of Jerusalem.

And so on. Same story, new way of telling it.

Every work of genre fiction needs its own USP. My friend fantasy writer Juliet E. McKenna has said that when she sent her first novel in, the reply came back that it was a well-written, competent piece of work - with nothing to distinguish it from the 30 other well-written, competent pieces of work on the publisher’s desk that day. So, she sat down and worked out her fantasy world’s own particular system of magic, and the particular viewpoints she would tell the story from, and resubmitted.

When I wrote my first novel, I could have made it a work of bog-standard space opera and it would have been pretty dull. Or I could keep all the expected space opera tropes and have subtly treasonous fun by overtly working the future of the UK and the Royal Family into the action. Doctor Who has since got there too but I can sincerely say that as far as I know, I was the first.

That was my USP. What’s yours?

Ben Jeapes took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be easier than a real job (it isn’t). Hence, as well as being the author of 5 novels and co-author of many more, he has also been a journal editor, book publisher, and technical writer.


  1. I admit I had to click on the link to find out what a USP is! But it's made me think about how my WIP differs (or not!) from similar books. Thanks, Ben.

  2. The Abingdon Passion Play sounds really fun.....would love to be a part of it! And as you say, a pantomime Passion Play would be even more year perhaps? I'll fly over : )


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