Passion Play (REVIEW): Zoë Wanamaker And Samantha Bond Are Sisters Of The Stage

Zoë Wanamaker And Samantha Bond Are Sisters Of The Stage

Have we become desensitised to the shock and scandal of an extramarital affair?

Watching Zoë Wanamaker and Owen Teale play out a car crash relationship at the Duke of York's Theatre in Passion Play is gripping and heart-breaking, but dated attitudes glare out from the stage.

The Achilles heel of men's unstoppable lust, the weakness of women's uncontrollable hearts - these may have been the hazards of marriage 32-years-ago when Peter Nichols wrote Passion Play, but surely we're all a little wiser now?

Felicity Kendal, star of optimistic 70s sitcom The Good Life, recently told the Daily Mail's Weekender that she had a secret 'dark side'. The cheery actress with cut-glass vowels made the confession that "I always did have affairs when I wanted… the aura of sweetness and light associated with Barbara Good has got b****r all to do with my life".

The swinging 60's, Kendal's affair, sexism, misogyny – distant, different times. Six years after the final Episode of The Good Life in 1978, Nichols wrote Passion Play.

Where The Good Life appeared to show the ideal aim of a couple rejecting conforming constraints of society and relying on their wholesome relationship as a pillar of support in their quest for self-sufficiency, Nichols was deconstructing what he infers is the 'myth' of marriage.

Passion Play is a thorough examination of the pros and cons of adultery in the form of a black comedy - laughter to hide the tears? Eleanor (Zoë Wanamaker) is confident, successful and happy in her marriage with James (Owen Teale). So self-assured in her relationship, Eleanor even encourages her husband to spend time with their young, attractive and recently widowed family friend, Kate. Despite a track record of stealing older men from women, Eleanor is certain that James is truly honourable and faithful. He isn't.

Owen Teale (James), Annabel Scholey (Kate) and Zoë Wanamaker (Eleanor)

The ensuing affair is one-dimensional: Kate is drawn to the older man and likes to take what she wants, James is attracted to beautiful and attractive young women. Inevitably they leap into the bed of adultery after brief inner turmoil (what red-blooded male wouldn't?). Love is with Eleanor, sex is with Kate. It's all fun, until Eleanor finds out.

Owen Teale (James) and Zoë Wanamaker (Eleanor)

Passion Play would be genuinely uncomfortable viewing for anyone who has been cheated on, the pain is painted vividly on stage. Wanamaker evokes that feeling that we have all experienced with any life-changing event - with one discovery, in one moment, you know that live will never be the same again. Ever.

Delivering Eleanor's discovery of betrayal with shattering realism, Wanamaker single-handedly creates a switch in the play's pathos. Sitting in a cafe with a friend, being handed a love letter between James and Kate, her inner voice insists 'don't think about it or you'll cry.'

Zoë Wanamaker (Eleanor)

Scholey's performance as devil seductress is spot on: sneaky, sexy, mischievous and impossible to read. A woman that men love to love and women love to hate.

With the addition of Samantha Bond delivering Eleanor's thoughts and Oliver Cotton as James' inner voice, we are given a firm justification for reviving Passion Play after its debut 32 years ago.

Oliver Cotton (Jim), Samantha Bond (Nell), Zoë Wanamaker (Eleanor), Annabel Scholey (Kate) and Owen Teale (James)

The artistic offering of Passion Play has diminished over three decades; society is less sexist and misogynistic (thankfully), making Nichol's observations equally less relevant and poignant.

Passion Play is worth seeing for the top performances from award-winning talent in an energetic revival. Bond is particularly impressive with her adopted voice and mannerisms of Wanamaker - sisters of the stage.

Samantha Bond (Nell) and Zoë Wanamaker (Eleanor)

Passion Play is running at the Duke of York's theatre, London, until 3 August.

Watch the trailer of Passion Play:


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