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The Passion: Michael Sheen and Owen Sheers' new vision of the Easter story

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Bethan Elfyn Bethan Elfyn | 16:44 UK time, Tuesday, 26 April 2011

I'd made the probably rather foolish decision to head to Brighton for a few days prior to the Easter bank holiday. Yes, it was packed, hot, fun and yet the open spaces of the Welsh beaches were definitely on my mind as I set off on the five-hour train journey back on a particularly hot Saturday afternoon.

I was desperate to get back by this point as I'd got some last minute tickets to The Supper - a very special part of The Passion's 72-hour dramatisation in Port Talbot, directed by Michael Sheen, written by Owen Sheers, and including a cast of 1,000 local people.

Michael Sheen in The Passion. Photo: Luned Aaron

Michael Sheen in The Passion. Photo: Luned Aaron

Thanks to Twitter, I'd been following the action since the beginning and the fervour was intense. Seeing the crowds turning up on the beach on the Friday afternoon to see the Christ-like Sheen as The Teacher appear from the sea, to kick off the action, had whetted the appetite and sparked the imagination.

The atmosphere in Port Talbot was electric, the word of mouth intensified as people guessed where to go next, and Sheen over the weekend became more and more a Pied Piper figure, with crowd of people following him wherever he went.

I arrived at the Seaside Social and Labour Club on Saturday night, and landed in the middle of the buzz. Paul Potts, the local classical singer who did good via a talent show a few years back, was walking into the venue. The paparazzi were lurking, the security of the club chattered excitedly, and the local boys drove around in their cars looking very curious.

Michael Sheen in The Passion. Photo: Luned Aaron

Michael Sheen in The Passion. Photo: Luned Aaron

The Supper

For the lucky ones inside there was an ample buffet of pasties, chicken drumsticks, various battered nibbles, and French fancies. Thousands, meanwhile, were outside watching the action on the big screen. The compère was a loud, confident and old skool guy with an ease of manner, big jokes, and general joshing with the audience; he brought on Iwan Rheon, a young actor from Cardiff who rose to fame in the TV series Misfits. Iwan sang two original songs and has a soaring vocal, fairly reminiscent of Radiohead's Thom York in style.

The short musical sets were interspersed with dramatic action. The Teacher heard more from his mother about his missing memories; he warmly greeted his gathering of friends; and we were reminded that the evil ICU is trying to shut down the town to build another 'passover'. It looked, too, like The Teacher and one of his friends had an altercation, evoking the Judas/Jesus situation of betrayal.

Back to the music and Paul Potts sang two poignant songs. His voice is incredible, soft, beautiful, and so elegant. I had shivers down my back.

Next on were the Manics Street Preachers. It's strange seeing them in such a small venue, but they also fit in well with the kitsch stage, especially with Nicky's feather boa-decorated mic stand. During the day they were been playing on the streets wearing balaclavas, but here in the club The House Band - as they were called - pogoed their way through a three-song greatest hits set including Motorcycle Emptiness, If You Tolerate This, and a special reworking of A Design For Life.

The ICU company men came storming in, in their black army uniforms, and started by arresting the Manics. Nicky Wire was laughing his head off, but James put up a bit of a fight.

There was one more band: local guys Weird Naked Indian played their own track followed by Lord Help, a Tom Jones cover from the last album, to which Sheen, his co-actors and his girlfriend Rachel McAdams all line danced in the club, with most of the guests joining in.

The action dissolved and continued outside and Sheen was on the makeshift garden, on top of a skip, with his Father above on scaffolding, and they debated the 'sacrifice' ahead. One slate must sometimes save a whole house! The slate analogy was a poignant moment - each slate is an individual, you have to go with the grain, and together they are strong.

Michael Sheen in The Passion. Photo: Luned Aaron

Michael Sheen in The Passion. Photo: Luned Aaron

The evening ended with The Teacher's arrest and he was driven off in police vans, apparently to spend the night in the cells, before the final day's mock trial.

Back at the seafront I caught the final act of the weekend, the crucifixion, and I was so glad to have caught some if not all of the weekend. It was a pretty special event for Welsh drama, for Port Talbot town, and to show a world class event of this kind can be produced here in Wales.

Performers in The Passion. Photo: Luned Aaron

Performers in The Passion. Photo: Luned Aaron

See videos of the whole weekend and The Supper.


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