Experimental atheist Dave McKean distills Michael Sheen's 72-hour Passion stage production to bizarre effect.
The Gospel of Us is the result of a 72-hour Passion play being placed in a cinematic Lean Mean Fat Reducing Grilling Machine and then filtered through the minds of people who clearly prefer to read the Bible upside down and back-to-front.
Chameleonic character actor Michael Sheen both directed and starred in the National Theatre Wales' production The Passion, which took place on the beaches and in the shopping centres of his hometown of Port Talbot before handing the creative reins over to film director and fellow experimental atheist, Dave McKean (MirrorMask). The cast is made up of a thousand hooded locals and some of the 22,000 people who visited Port Talbot to watch the production take place.
The result is, in a word, bizarre. Rearranging, abridging and recontextualising the Bible with the dominance of the supreme deity, Sheen has created a Welsh testament that reflects on modern times. It's a religious mash-up of documentary, fiction and animation so weird and shocking, you may as well have just watched your local vicar skank his way through a Sunday service to Skrillex.
The production uses traditionally accepted biblical stories but adds its own modern twist to each. Before it climaxes with the crucifixion, performances from Paul Potts and the Manic Street Preachers act as the backdrop for scenes in which The Teacher (Jesus, played by Sheen), for example, announces raffle winners at a working men’s club (where, for some reason, there are also emotive extreme close-ups of cress). Prior to that, ham and butter sandwiches (six triangles) are torn apart to feed an entire community.
Sound is a big player in The Gospel of Us and it’s heavily relied upon to bring this theatrical production to a cinema audience. Yet, it's hard to see where this film fits in with contemporary life. If you have a basic grasp of religious texts as well as a high tolerance for the garish and the eccentric, it may be for you.
But those in a very close relationship with the church should perhaps steer clear, especially with a resolution that errs on the side of blasphemous. But what is commendable is its spirit of provocation, so someone call the cleaner as there will be spilt popcorn.
A 72-hour production provides a lot of choice for a two hour film.
Great, if you've always fancied sharing a pint with Jesus, while wearing an amplifier as a hat.
The closest you will get to feeling like you have run a marathon, without running a marathon. Once is enough.