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Watch: Revisiting Michael Sheen’s groundbreaking Passion of Port Talbot

29 Mar 2024 4 minute read
The Passion of Port Talbot. Images: PA News Agency

Stephen Price

On Easter weekend 2011, a 72-hour performance of The Passion of Christ took place in Port Talbot starring one of its most famous sons that remains, to this day, one of the most groundbreaking and momentous theatrical events ever staged in Wales.

In a play inspired by the once-a-decade Passion Play by the German town of Oberammergau, the large-scale theatrical production was a years-in-the-making collaboration between National Theatre Wales and Wildworks.

The one-off play was based on a novel by Owen Sheers, who wrote the script, and was co-directed by Michael Sheen and Bill Mitchell.


The Passion of Port Talbot has been described as a ‘riotous contemporary re-telling’ of the Passion story – the events leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus – and was scripted by Owen Sheers – taking place across Port Talbot from Good Friday to Easter Sunday 2011.

Michael Sheen during production of The Passion

Port Talbot residents formed both cast and crew, with over 1,000 people actively participating in the production and over 25,000 people spectating – all bound together by the acting prowess of Michael Sheen who played The Teacher.

In a first for its time, the people of Port Talbot themselves explored the boundlessness of theatre – from Twitter to whispered rumour – and few productions since have attempted to come close to a play of such epic proportions.

Again, ahead of its time in its focus on immersion and participation, a full, part, or even cobbled-together recording of the Passion doesn’t exist online, but a moving BBC documentary went behind the scenes of the making of the production, showing elements of the performances, which you can view below.

Beginning on Aberavon beach on Good Friday, Sheers’ story tells of a town in thrall to a sinister and heartless corporation which puts profit before people in its quest to plunder the town’s resources.

Its parallels with the Port Talbot, and indeed the Wales, of today are no coincidence.


Sheen played the Teacher, a local man who 40 days earlier disappeared but who has now returned.

As he gathers followers around him and becomes a focus for the resistance, the Teacher is perceived by the corporation as a danger who must be removed at all costs.

One of the final moments of The Passion of Port Talbot

Writing in the Guardian in April 2011, Lyn Gardner said: “The Gospel of St Mark is the template, but everything is given a neat twist. The Last Supper takes place in the Seaside Social Club, the garden of Gethsemane is a patch of housing estate grass, God the Father becomes a roofer who knows that sometimes one slate must be sacrificed to save a whole house.

“The hand of Wildwork’s visionary Bill Mitchell is everywhere in a show that may be on a vast scale but it understands that it is not the grand narratives but the small stories of individuals that glue the theatre and community together, and it rewards its audience’s patience with a gift.”


“This production is transforming and uplifting, and Port Talbot’s future starts the very second The Passion ends.”

Such was its impact, Gardner wrote of the play again within the space of a week, adding: “When The Passion finally drew to a close on Aberavon seafront in Port Talbot on Sunday evening, there was a sense not just that the town of Port Talbot had been transformed by the experience, but also the future of large-scale participatory theatre.”

Watch the BBC’s Passion of Port Talbot documentary here.

Accounts from some of those who took part in the play and further imagery can be found here.

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