Duke of York’s Theatre
Performance Date: Wednesday 15 May 2013
Passion Play stars Zoë Wanamaker and Owen Teale as Eleanor and James, a couple with 25 years of marriage behind them. Eleanor appears to be in control, secure in her relationship and exuding confidence. James starts the play half-asleep on the couch, and appears to have relaxed so much into their coupledom that only half his brain is functioning. The sleek and stylish cat amongst these pigeons is Kate, played by Annabel Scholey, the much younger partner of James’ recently dead best friend – the woman who broke up his marriage, and the woman who has an open passion for older men. Initially, Eleanor and Kate get along well, with the elder declaring she says sees a lot of herself in Kate. But once Kate begins her campaign of seduction of James, the comfortable domesticity starts to unravel.
Peter Nichols’ 1981 play interrogates infidelity, desire and betrayal with humour, as well as despair. The full spectrum of character thoughts are presented: alter-egos for both Eleanor and James, called Nell and Jim, played by the wonderful Samantha Bond and Oliver Cotton appear on stage at various points, voicing their character’s hopes, fears, wishes, and ingenuously and fluidly interacting with other characters. This conceit adds depth to the performance and allows the levels of hurt to be explored.
The staging and sets of this sexy, unsettling show were excellent, and, although fitting, the blaring use of choral music at scene changes didn’t fail to cause a number of audience members to jump at the noise.
I felt the first half of the play was much stronger than the second, and that this was largely down to the writing. Performances were top notch, particularly from the female cast members, but they were let down by a script written by an ageing white man playing out (or re-living) his own fantasies. Strong Eleanor descends into clichéd mental instability;we never really find out about what makes Kate tick. James, meanwhile, after his somnolent beginning becomes dynamised through the production, only to end in unquestioning worship of T&A.
Overall, an enjoyable and though-provoking night out, including to wonder why so many presumably masochistic middle-aged couples chose this activity for their date night.