A farm in the hills above Auchtermuchty is to stage a passion play reminiscent of the famous Oberammergau open-air productions.

Antoinette Galbraith reports from a rehearsal

Suzanne Lofthus is wearing a pair of black suede high-heeled shoes. She sees me glancing down at them and laughs; she has, she says, a typical city girl's attitude to the country. ''The cast tease me about my shoes. I tiptoe precariously around things like cowpats. They all wear welly boots and walk straight through them. This week I've got my trainers with me.''

''But, for tonight's rehearsal not even trainers will be enough. When we get to Lochiehead, Charlotte and Rupert de Klee's farm in the hills above Auchtermuchty in Fife, the rain is pouring down and it is clear that the rehearsal will take place inside.

''I don't want the cast coming down with colds and chest infections at this point,'' Suzanne says. You can see why. In six weeks' time Lochiehead Farm will play host to a play of the type not often seen outside Oberammergau. Christ, The Final Days, the story of Jesus's last days on earth beginning with his entry to Jerusalem to the Crucifixion and the Resurrection will be re-enacted in the countryside by a cast of 40 actors. Supported by a host of donkeys, sheep, cattle, and goats and followed by the audience the action will work its way around Lochiehead Farm, through an orchard to the bottom of a hill where the spectators will stand in a semi-circle to watch the crucifixion. The final scene, when Jesus appears to the disciples for the last time, will take place on a small lake, freshly dug out of a swamp.

It is an ambitious project. One Charlotte de Klee and her husband Rupert feel both inspired and terrified by. For the past four years they have staged a Nativity which has drawn audiences of more than 400 people at each of six separate performances staged the week before Christmas. Demand for these tickets has been so strong that last Christmas the de Klees had to turn 300 people away. The couple's desire

to mark the millennium was so strong they decided to host this production of Christ's

Passion - their largest production so far and one that will cost #15,000 to produce.

''But how did the project get started? Charlotte explains that she was inspired by a similar play her parents have produced for several years at Wintershall, their home in Surrey. She is motivated, she explains, by a desire to bring alive the story of Jesus to children who may have never heard it and she believes in the impact of a live performance. ''How else are people going to learn about Jesus? They don't learn at school, many do not learn at home.'' While Rupert takes several minor parts, Charlotte prefers not to act ''although I may have to be a woman in the crowd. But our four children are all involved as are many other local children.''

She is anxious to draw the audience into the life of Christ in historical context without dealing on just the high points. Thus, the opening scene takes place in the market-place where ''fish wives will be selling oranges, bread, and fish''. As the play develops it will include scenes such as Jesus healing the leper, raising Lazarus from the dead, the passage where he responds to the woman caught in adultery. As the play reaches its climax, Jesus shares the last supper with his disciples and we witness his trial under Pilate.

''As the actors file into the de Klee's large farmhouse kitchen for the rehearsal, they too look down at Suzanne's shoes and heave a sigh of relief. Not even Suzanne will conduct a rehearsal outside tonight. Instead, the entire cast, Jesus, Romans, centurions, thieves, soldiers, disciples, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, Philip the Narrator, Martha, Caiaphas the high priest, John, a red-headed adulteress, Pontius Pilate, and assorted children all squash into the living room at Lochiehead. Some are believers, others to whom the Bible is familiar, to others the story is new. The adulteress assures me she is ''really the respectable mother of two children''.

''The scene Suzanne wants to work on tonight is the crucifixion. Visually, the outside presentation will be a spectacular. A trembling and exhausted Christ will be 'nailed' to the cross, which will be pulled upright in full view of the audience. Two thieves (who have as yet to volunteer for their parts) will hang half-naked beside him.

But tonight it is not the acting Suzanne wants to focus on; rather she wants her cast to practise communicating the emotions of the characters they will portray. There is a danger, she explains. that the over-familiar words will sound like cliches, stock words. How, for example, does Jesus say ''Father forgive them for they know not what they do,'' at the moment he is nailed to the cross and sound as if he means it?

She asks the cast to step outside their characters for a moment. ''How would you feel if you had been standing at the foot of the cross since dawn, waiting for a man to die,'' she asks a centurion. ''Bored, irritated, it has been a long day,'' he replies. ''Furious, he's defiant to the end,'' snaps another, sounding as if he really does mean it. Besides me a soldier is sharp and unforgiving, keen to get this man crucified and down off the cross. Across the room Mary's response is a gut-wrenching cry from the heart; Mary Magdalene sobs, her voice shrill with emotion. Jesus is exhausted, white and tense as his lungs fill with fluid and the weight of his body wrenches his arms out of their sockets. The words come haltingly, reluctantly. ''It is finished. Father into Thy hands I commit my spirit.''

''If you don't like him or are afraid of him, then play it that way because it is honest,'' Suzanne tells the cast. ''You must show your emotions, show them through your eyes. If you feel sorrow show it. Give it all you have got. Don't be embarrassed, if you feel funny at first, it will get easier.''

''When Suzanne first saw the crucifixion scene she knew she wanted to direct this play. She and the de Klees had been discussing the possibility for some time, but Suzanne was hesitating. Her work as a director of the Cutting Edge Theatre in Edinburgh was all-consuming and Rupert, a property developer, and Charlotte were concerned about taking on such a large commitment. So, she went to Wintershall to see the southern production of the play.

''There were young children running around saying 'we are going to see the crucifixion, it will be all blood and guts and gore'. But when they saw Jesus on the cross, they were stunned. The whole place was deathly quiet. It is an issue between you and God, I was so touched. When I was walking in the crowd I turned round and found myself face to face with Jesus. I was faced with this incredible portrayal of his suffering, I was so moved, he was incredibly hurt by the crucifixion. I made the decision that if the de Klees wanted me I would do it.''

But would the de Klees want a woman? (They did.) Would she be able to control a cast of professional and amateur actors from different backgrounds: bankers, university lecturers, farm workers, and housewives each of whom had to read John's Gospel to research their parts? (No problem, they obviously love her.) Could she persuade someone to learn to milk a goat? (Anne volunteered.) And what about the weather? (The long-range forecast for June is good.)

With all obstacles overcome, the cast started a rigorous set of rehearsals early January in Gateside Village Hall. ''It is basically a group of people in the community getting together to put on a play. Most of them do not know each other. Above all I try to make it fun. I want to bring out that Jesus has a sense of humour, but there is a great sense of camaraderie there,'' she says.

''Suzanne is well aware that the Gospel as portrayed in many churches is something many people cannot identify with. Forty three per cent of the population has no understanding of the meaning of Easter, to many people the name Jesus is just a swear word. She sees the play at Lochiehead as a way of making Jesus relevant not only to those to whom he is a new concept, but also to those whose vision of this man is jaded by familiarity.

''I want people to see Jesus as fully God and fully man, to look at Jesus and say 'yes, I felt like that'. I want to make him relevant in all the pain and the struggling.''

n Lochiehead's Christ, The Final Days takes place on June 1, 2, and 3, 10.30am to 1pm. Tickets cost #6 for adults and #4 for children. For further details or to book tickets contact Lochiehead Passion Play, Lochiehead, Auchtermuchty, Fife KY14 7EH Tel: 01382 330039 (office hours). Surplus proceeds go to local charities. Subsidies are available and discounts are offered to school parties.