16 September 2013

Passion Play - Duke of York's Theatre, Saturday 29th June 2013

Eleanor is  a chorister whose marriage disintegrates when her husband James embarks on an affair with someone she had considered as a friend and confidante.  James, a leading restorer of paintings, agrees to a clandestine meeting with the couple's sultry young friend Kate, the widow of a former colleague. An affluent photographer, Kate ostensibly needs James' professional input for a book she plans to write; but her real motive for meeting Eleanor's husband is to convince him to take her as his lover.
James needs little convincing, and slowly the lies mount up. The revelation that her husband of twenty-five years is being unfaithful comes as a tremendous shock to Eleanor, who feels compelled to reveal secrets of her own. With the marriage at crisis point, both she and James develop alter-egos  who give voice to the troubled spouses' innermost thoughts.

Eleanor -   Zoë Wanamaker
James ... Owen Teale
Eleanor's alter-ego  ... Samantha Bond
James' alter-ego  ... Oliver Cotton
Kate ... Annabel Scholey
Agnes ... Sian Thomas

Creative Team:

Director: David Leveaux
Producer: Tali Pelman
Set Designer: Hildegard Bechtler
Lighting Designer: Mark Henderson
Sound Designer: Fergus O'Hare
Costume Designer: Laura Hopkins

With apologies for the delayed posting - Passion Play will have already closed by the time you read this.  Things have been a little hairy on the domestic front at RTR Towers (to say nothing of the slightly gammy leg still which is driving me up the wall). In fact, I did wonder whether we would ever make it home after the performance, seeing as how some bright spark at Westminster Council had given permission for the EDL to march through central London on the same day as Gay Pride.  Now there's a riot in potentia. Still, at least things have not been so hairy as they were for Eleanor and James, the main characters in this play. 

It wasn't selling well, and its easy to see why.  This was not a pleasant evening out at the theatre.  I found it quite distressing at times, and I wonder about the psychological effect it would have on an actor to be playing it 8 times a week.  I wouldn't have recommended going to see this to anyone who was in any way depressed - and certainly not to anyone struggling with the effects of marital infidelity.  In fact, I was chatting away to the woman in the seat next to me who was on her own and obviously desperate for someone to talk to during the interval and we both agreed that, amusing though aspects of the play were, both of us would probably go home and slit our wrists with a razor blade if it got any darker. 

You do have to pay close attention because, with four people on stage but only two characters (both main characters have an "alter ego" who speaks their thoughts) it can get fairly confusing.  It could, of course, have got even more confusing - the chap in front wondered whether Zoe/Samantha and Owen/Oliver would swap roles after the interval and I thought "if that happens I'm totally lost".  What kept me relatively sane during Act 1 was that the alter egos didn't actually speak directly to anyone else on stage.  And then, during Act 2, the prediction from the row in front was more or less fulfilled and the alter egos not only started interacting with other characters on stage but also with each other and I thought my head was going to go off pop.  It wasn't too bad with the men, because despite being a character and his alter ego, Owen Teale and Oliver Cotton don't really look that much like each other.  Oliver Cotton, for example, has a lot more hair.  But with Zoe Wannamaker and Samantha Bond looking like the pair of slightly demented twins in Gormenghast, with the wigmaker's art having been pushed to its limit, the only way I could easily tell them apart was becuase Wannamaker has a retrousse nose (if anyone knows how to type an accented e in Blogger, I would be grateful for the tip) and Bond was wearing a necklace and slightly different coloured trousers. 

It did, of course, feel like there was somebody missing from the stage, and that was Kate's alter-ego.  Mind you, there probably wouldn't have been much room for it - her personality is (perhaps deliberately) rendered as so manipulative and horrible that any other point of view would probably have got in the way.  You are left in no uncertain terms as to who is the villain of the piece and that James is simply a middle-aged fool flattered into destroying his marriage.  It becomes less and less easy to sympathise with either Kate or James, who seem to act without any thought of the possible consequences.  

The entire play does feel a little dated with its references to records, letters (remember those?) and telephone boxes. Apart from those references, it could be anywhere, anytime, and the spare, pared back set did a good job of being nicely non-specific.  It does all get terribly, terribly confusing (particularly when one is a Bear of Very Little Brain) in the second half when the alter-egos start interacting with the "real people" - a real acting challenge I should imagine to spend half the play saying lines directed at nobody and to whom nobody reacts, and then to spend the second half interacting normally, and it does all get terribly, terribly bleak as things spiral out of control.  Not a play I would recommend to anyone feeling emotionally fragile in any way, or indeed anyone who has ever been in a relationship breaking down because of someone's infidelity.

What the critics thought:




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