Passion Play, Duke of York’s Theatre *****
As far as infidelity goes, it’s usually no laughing matter. But Peter Nichols’ provocative Passion Play, originally written in 1981, provides just the right touch of humour to an otherwise heart-rendering situation, writes Francine Wolfisz
Currently running as a West End revival at the Duke of York Theatre and directed by David Leveaux, the plot revolves around the marriage of Eleanor (Zoe Wanamaker) and James (Owen Teale), which after 25 years faces a mighty obstacle in the road to happiness, following his affair with a girl younger than his adult children.
Each have their own life “passion” – James is an art restorer, while Eleanor sings in choirs. But it is the passion between them that comes under scrutiny with the arrival of the vampish Kate (played by the extremely attractive Annabel Scholey).
She discards her ever-changing wardrobe of designer clothes as often as her latest beau – usually a much older married man, who is in the midst of a mid-life crisis. It comes as no shock that James is her latest target, and she unashamedly pursues him – though in reality it takes little effort on her part for James to engage in an affair.
What happens next is both clever and intriguing – an alter-ego Jim (played fabulously by Oliver Cotton) – appears on stage dressed exactly like James, but provides the dialogue of what his character is thinking rather than saying. On many occasions it works to great comic effect, as well as adding to the emotional devastation felt by the protagonists. Later on, Eleanor also gets an alter-ego, Nell (played by Samantha Bond), who cuts through her tough exterior and provides a deeper insight into her emotional hurt.
Added into the mix is Sian Thomas as Agnes, an interfering yet well-meaning widow, who helps Eleanor realise the extent of James’ betrayal – albeit not always in the most sympathetic of ways.
Against a simple, yet highly effective set designed by Hildegard Bechtler and raw blasts of requiems by Mozart and Verdi, the plot remains captivating throughout.
All in all, a thought-provoking performance of Nichols’ play, dutifully brought to life by a superb cast.