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Tuesday 18 June 2013

Passion Play, play by David Nichols, Wyndham’s Theatre, London, 8* out of 10

Eleanor (Zoë Wanamaker/Samantha Bond) and James (Owen Teale/Oliver Cotton) are a couple in their late fifties who have been quite contentedly married for 25 years. Oliver restores paintings, Eleanor teaches classical singing (They probably live in Hampstead, subscribe to the Guardian newspaper and vote Labor). When Eleanor’s young friend, the very attractive mid-thirties femme-fatale Kate (Annabel Scholey) decides to go after the rather dull Oliver, he finds it impossible to resist. The awareness of the extent of his betrayal unleashes a full blown mid-life crisis. Eleanor is in the eye of the storm betrayed by Kate and much more painfully by her trusted husband.  Betrayal and martyrdom are the ingredients of the Passion Play.

What makes Peter Nichols’ 1981 play stand out, is that Eleanor and James are each represented on stage by 2 people: one, the person as seen by those who interact with them and the other an alter ego who critically observes the first, and gives more open and direct expression to their needs and emotions. Occasionally that second personality takes over and becomes visible to the other characters, leaving the meaker alter-ego in the shadows. This interplay and the visibility to the audience of the inner dialogue of the two protagonists add drama, wit and some gripping emotional truth.

An impressive set, effective use of oratorio music and a director (David Levaux), who really knows what he is doing add substantially to the impact of this play. Casting was spot on and the quality of the acting makes this a great evening at the theatre: Zoe Wanamaker, Samantha Bond, Oliver Cotton and Annabel Scholey succeed with outstanding performances. This Passion Play is worth a detour to London’s Theatreland.   

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