A moment of passion. 5 May 2011

It is 5am. The alarm has just gone off. And I'm thinking, what the hell am I doing in Port Talbot, South Wales, getting up at the crack of dawn?

 

I am actually quite cross. I don't know which direction my anger is aimed in, possibly at National Theatre Wales - the client. Possibly at my colleagues safely back in London tucked up in their beds, or possibly at myself, for saying yes, for wanting to be part of it. I ought to have seen this coming.

And to cap it all, I have got raging toothache. Brilliant!

We pile into the car for the short ride to the beach. The sky is grey, but clear. A kind or strange pre-dawn light bathes the beach. I begin to feel a slight glimmer of excitement.

We join a growing group of people all shuffling across the sand.

Suddenly a large bearded man clad in a strange coat with what looks like flotsam tied round his collar, strides through the crowd, carrying a big wooden staff, heading for the sea. It has begun.

For the next three days my colleagues and I are caught up in the extraordinary tide that is Michael Sheen's The Passion.

It becomes an emotional roller coaster where it is possible to feel on top of the world one minute and like the proverbial shit on someone's shoe the next.

It is like playing witness to a town's attempt to justify itself. To show the world that it has value, that it can and should be recognised by the outside world, and that it has something good to offer.

On the final day, as Sheen dragged a cross for three arduous miles through the middle of the town and down to the seafront, I was struck by the extent to which this journey had become a journey for the whole town.

Through Sheen, the whole town was riding above its assumed reputation, garnering redemption, feeling good about itself again.

It began to dawn on me. I was in fact part of something really special.

This was the real power of art. Done right it can transform a whole bloody town.

Forget those comfortable evenings in the theatre in London, sinking into the velvet seats for a nice bit of Rattigan or a few choice song and dance routines. This was the real deal.

All around me people were feeling better, properly better, because of a piece of theatre! This was about as close to religion as theatre was ever going to get. You could see it working all around.

*

It is 7am. The alarm has just gone off. I am cross. I face a day sitting in my plush Soho office, having cups of tea made for me and discussing new projects with glamorous theatre types. It just doesn't feel the same. The dust is settling on Michael Sheen's The Passion, but not in the same place it was before. I have changed. Theatre has changed me. Once again.

Hats off to National Theatre Wales, they have done something amazing. Things will not be the same again.

Ben Chamberlain, Director, The Corner Shop PR


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