‘Passion Play’ at the Duke of York’s Theatre

In one newspaper interview I read recently, Zoe Wanamaker was reported as remarking that Passion Play, in which she is currently appearing in the West End, is hardly a feminist work.  I might go further than that and suggest that it has a distinctly misogynist streak.

Peter Nichol’s play, from the early 1980s, is another one of those plays from that period about marital infidelity.  One could play a sort of compare and contrast between it and Stoppard’s The Real Thing, and Pinter’s Betrayal if one were stuck in a snow drift on a long dark evening and were that way inclined.

The unusual feature of this play is to have two actors playing each of the main characters, at the same time: one speaks the lines that are said aloud, the other says what the character is thinking.  It’s a clever trick, and when you have Zoe Wanamaker and Samantha Bond playing the long suffering wife there is always something to watch when either one or both on the stage.  But it is only a trick, and it’s not enough to carry the whole conceit of the play.

Owen Teale and Oliver Cotton play the bored husband, enticed into an affair with an alluring, but woefully underwritten and stereotypical woman young enough to be his daughter.  In the first half of the play there is some comedy in the awkward early stages of the affair, and the double playing of the roles.  After the interval, once the wife becomes aware of the infidelity, the heart of the drama is in the disintegration of her self confidence, giving both lead actresses something to chew on, wide eyed with distress.

Were it not for the strength of their performances, there would be little to commend this play (apart from a very clever minimalist set) which seemed to be little more than an  embodiment of  an old fashioned middle aged male fantasy – to have both the excitement of the young woman and the home making of the wife at the same time.  And as the play finishes, this seems to be the status quo, a hollowed out wife staying in the marriage, even as her spirit and soul pack their bags and walk out of the house, while the mistress struts her stuff for the husband, in nothing but a fur coat.

Have you seen it?  Could you see any other redeeming features?

Tickets are available at the Half Priced Ticket Booth in Leicester Square.

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  1. ‘Strange Interlude’ at the National Theatre | Reading and Writing

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