Passion Play

The set of Passion Play is a stark contrast to its content. Bright white, with light to illuminate every crack in the happy couple façade that Eleanor and James present. The play opens gently enough, but within minutes, even the smallest detail has a hand in shattering this illusion and the quietest revelation is seemingly enough to change everything.

The play itself certainly doesn’t shy away from the darkest parts of human nature, from the sheer determination of Kate, a mistress who has broken relationships before, to the psychological fragility of Eleanor, and the near inhumanity of James, a man so unfailingly cool that it takes a little longer than necessary to realise what’s actually going on. In a play about restriction, repression and the innate fear that love is not enough, Zoë Wanamaker’s Eleanor is pivotal. She is the emotional grounding of a relationship which an audience can immediately tap into and relate with, and Wanamaker herself performs beautifully. In her character, there are pages and pages to write about, to analyse and enjoy, especially when we are introduced to her reflection – her thoughts, her feelings, her former self, in the shape of Samantha Bond. Perfectly in tune, the pair convey what was truly said, and what can only be thought, in the most desperate attempts to save a relationship which is quite frankly on the rocks.

In contrast, we have James and Jim – Owen Teale and Oliver Cotton, respectively – the husband of Eleanor, who is tempted away from the safety of a 25 year marriage by Kate, Annabel Scholey’s seductress who is rather well known for her attraction to older men. Scholey is disgustingly good as the ‘bit on the side’ and it’s all to easy to hate Kate as a character, whilst simultaneously adoring the actress for her ability to cast off her inhibitions along with her clothes.

Nichols’s script is subtle enough to build layer upon layer on a relationship which seems so strong in the beginning but is found to have weaker foundations than the audience first thought. The house of cards constructed in Passion Play is reasonably sound – often it seems as though nothing could tear apart a couple so determined to stay together – until the introduction of a young woman who seems to have no inhibitions, no limits and no boundaries. That the set – with no boundaries between the different locations in which the play is placed – is so open and wide is a reflection of a morality which seems to govern this play, the opportunities for cross-cutting between scenes are endlessly exploited and work incredibly well given that it would seem, at some points, that there were five people talking at once.

The ending is a revelation which still – nearly a day later – remains a little surprising, but nonetheless is hugely intelligent, and will sit with the audience for a long time to come, though arguably, the play is strong enough without the final scene.

Devastating and emotional, however, Passion Play works from every angle, a high quality piece with enough to give anybody pause for thought.

Passion Play is playing at The Duke of York’s Theatre until the 3 August 2013. For more information and tickets, see ATG Tickets website.