Friday, June 14, 2013

Marital Mayhem: Peter Nichols, 'Passion Play' at the Duke of York's Theatre


Zoe Wanamaker plays Eleanor, part-time music coach and chorister, happy married to art-restorer James (Owen Teale). Their 25 year relationship is disrupted by ‘good-time-girl’ and recently widowed Kate (Annabel Scholey) who had previously lured a husband away from Eleanor’s best friend Agnes (Sian Thomas).
What begins as a bedroom farce, punctuated by loud and sprightly rhythms, gradually darkens, to an accompaniment by Bach.

The appearance of ‘alter egos’ for Eleanor and James (Samantha Bond and Oliver Cotton) was dramatically effective and very funny. I thought the religious theme at the end, embodied in paintings James brings onstage, seemed both tacky and tacked on. I also detected more than a hint of misogyny in the portrayal of the women, which added to a general sense of unease.
 Strong performances came from Zoe Wanamaker and Samantha Bond in identical orange fright-wigs

Another source of unease was the cramped seats, restricted leg-room and inadequate rake. We were in ‘good’ seats in the centre stalls, but maybe this is to be expected in an otherwise impressively ‘traditional’ theatre, given that it was built in 1895. I suspect they’ve added some rows, as it’s not very large. Its main virtue is the location in St Martin’s Lane, five minutes’ walk from Charing Cross.

The programme  was is good  value at £4 ; in addition to a potted history of the theatre it has an interview with the playwright and  an  interesting overview of plays about adultery by Mark Lawson. He writes: ‘Nichols ‘Passion Play’ is part of an eternal triangle of great adultery plays written around the turn of the 80s, sandwiched on either side by Harold Pinter’s ‘Betrayal’ (1978) and Tom Stoppard’s ‘The Real Thing’ (1982)
Peter Nichols is best known for ‘A Day in the Life of Joe Egg’ and ‘Privates on Parade’ (1977), both rooted in the author’s own experience, as is this one.


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