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25 Apr 2011

The Easter production is the biggest in a series of National Theatre Wales "moving productions" in its first year.

Hollywood actor Michael Sheen's "crucifixion" scene was the grand finale to his 72-hour performance of The Passion in Port Talbot.

Sheen returned to his home town to star as a Christ-like character in the marathon theatre production.

On Saturday he ate a "last supper" of beer and sandwiches at a social club where there was a performance by rock band the Manic Street Preachers.

As well as starring in The Passion, Sheen also co-directed the production which had a core cast of 15 professional actors from Port Talbot.

More than 1,000 local residents also took part in the National Theatre Wales production which was performed at venues across the town.

The play began at 0530 BST on Good Friday with a seafront scene, inspired by John the Baptist's baptism of Jesus, which was watched by hundreds who had heard about it by word of mouth.

By the time the first main part of the play was performed on Aberavon Beach at 1500 BST, organisers estimated up to 6,000 people had gathered to watch.

On Saturday, there were sequences in Llewellyn Street, the Castle Street underpass, Aberafan Shopping Centre, the Seaside Social and Labour Club in Sandfields and nearby Abbeyville Court.

John McGrath, artistic director of National Theatre Wales, said he was delighted with the response to the play.

"It's absolutely fantastic - the whole town understood it and got the bug. And they've rushed out again after finding their home town all over the nation's front pages - it's a real sense of celebration," he said.

"It's exceeded everybody's expectations - it's caught the mood of the moment and has even been on the news in Australia. It's created a real sense of pride among people in this town."

On Easter Sunday, the production returned to Aberavon Beach as part of the finale.

A trial was performed on Civic Square before a procession from Station Road, with the final scene, "the cross", at Aberavon seafront.

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

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

Written by Welsh poet and novelist Owen Sheers, the Easter production was the last and largest of a series of National Theatre Wales "moving productions" in its first year.

Mr McGrath said: "We've followed the sequence of events quite faithfully in making a new story based on The Passion, making it work theatrically and as a community event".


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