Aleister Crowley rejected Christianity feeling that it was based upon fear and turned instead to black magic, copious drug use and sexual perversion (allegedly). John Burns bases his one-man show on the writings of Crowley and the comments made by the media of his day.
Although there is a wealth of biographical detail in the script Burns dodges the central question of whether Crowley was a drug-addicted fraud or a genuine magus. The audience has to reach its own conclusion and, as Crowley went from mountaineering (which requires physical and mental discipline) to being a libertine its hard not to decide he was just after some cheap thrills rather than a sincere practitioner of the dark arts.
The play suggests that Crowley ended his life cheapening his art performing as a magician to sensation seekers. Yet it is hard to feel any sense of loss or waste, as the script never convinces that Crowley had that much talent, or even belief, in the first place.
Burns is not a natural performer and does not look at ease on stage. His movements are stiff and gestures too theatrical. The direction by Nigel Fairs is unfocused – possibly due to the lack of commitment in the script. He seems unsure whether to establish a mood of dark horror or melodrama resulting in an uneven tone. There are even moments – the revelation that Crowley’s crisis of faith was brought on by the death of his father- that border on being camp.
A Passion for Evil is a frustrating play. Considering that cults continue to attract followers to this day it would have been interesting to explore how Crowley was able to attract converts to his cause (apart from the availability of drugs and sex). As it is the Great Beast’s central doctrine of doing whatever you feel like comes across as glib and hard to accept as a disturbing challenge to the morals of society.