Michael Sheen Passion play takes to Port Talbot streets

Michael Sheen in one of the opening scenes of the weekend-long Passion, at Aberavon on Friday Photo: Rich Hardcastle Michael Sheen in one of the opening scenes of the weekend-long Passion, which started at Aberavon beach on Friday

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An open-air play with a cast of more than 1,000 and a Hollywood star in a leading role is taking to the streets of Port Talbot for the next three days.

The Passion, a re-working of biblical passion plays, stars Michael Sheen, who has returned to his home town to direct the National Theatre Wales project.

It is not just set in the south Wales town, it also involves hundreds of its residents as well as numerous groups.

The production started at 1500 BST on Aberavon seafront and ends on Monday.

Hundreds watched from the promenade and the beach as the first elements in the drama unfolded.

Organisers say it will run for 72-hours non-stop, with a series of public performances on each of the three days.

The Passion: times and places

The crowds at Aberavon on Saturday

Friday

  • THE ARRIVAL Aberavon Seafront 1500 BST
  • THE ANNOUNCEMENT Civic Square 1900 BST

Saturday (day)

  • THE RETURN Llewellyn Street 1200-1700 BST
  • THE RISING Underpass 1200-1700 BST
  • THE RESISTANCE Aberafan Shopping Centre noon-5pm
  • (NOTE: all day events start at the shopping centre)

Saturday (evening)

  • THE SUPPER Seaside Social Club 1930/2000 BST
  • THE GARDEN Abbeyville Court 2130 BST

Sunday

  • THE TRIAL Civic Square 1400 BST
  • THE PROCESSION From Station Road 1700
  • THE CROSS Aberavon Seafront 2000

SOURCE: National Theatre Wales

Passion plays developed to tell the story of the trial suffering and death of Jesus Christ.

Sheen, known for his portrayals of public figures such as Tony Blair and David Frost, has said he was inspired by the community spirit of the passion plays he watched at Margam Park as a youngster.

In addition to co-directing The Passion, Sheen is also starring in the production, which has a core cast of 15 professionals who are from the town.

Port Talbot-born David Rees Talbot, 33, whose London-based acting career includes The Bill and Casualty, landed the role of Peter.

He said rehearsals with Sheen included jogging on the beach and two hours' exercise to ensure the cast had the stamina for the three-day production.

He said: "It has been brilliant fun. In my 20 years' as an actor this is the best job ever.

"It's been a brilliant opportunity to work with him. But because he's so down to earth, it's not been that strange. You have got used to his genius in the room."

He added: "The hardest part is coming back and staying with your mum all the time. We've all turned back into teenagers - nobody's been allowed out too late and everyone's clothes are nice and clean."

But the bulk of the cast is made up of volunteers from Port Talbot itself, including choirs and youth theatres as well as voluntary groups.

The whole of Port Talbot is being turned into a theatre for a modern version of the Passion Play over the Easter weekend.

More than 1,000 are set to take part in performances being held at locations including the seafront, Aberafan Shopping Centre, Seaside Social Club and the civic square.

The production, written by poet and novelist Owen Sheers, is the last and largest of a series of National Theatre Wales "moving productions" to promote its first year programme.

Artistic director John McGrath said: "About two years ago we asked Michael to be part of our launch year and he immediately came up with the idea reinventing the passion play in Port Talbot.

"It was one of his earliest theatrical memories.

"When he steps in to the role, the whole thing lights up because he has this extraordinary presence."

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