These are high times for the Bridewell. Itís just about to celebrate its tenth anniversary and, just in time for the opening night of this show, news that this wonderfully intimate theatre has received the funding that it craved, or at least enough to keep it going for two more years.
It seems a shame that a venue devoted to musical theatre canít be funded more permanently. But, of course, this theatre devotes itself to the type of musical that would struggle to find its way to the West End and the financial security of the coach party.
Passion fits the bill exactly. In fact, Stephen Sondheim is almost a patron saint of the Bridewell. It was a Sondheim musical that was the opening production and now it turns to him again.
Passion tells the story of a young, handsome army officer, Giorgio, who is transferred to a remote part of Italy, thereby leaving his lover, Clara. While heís at his new posting, his colonelís sickly young cousin, Fosca, conceives an obsessive passion for him. Although initially repulsed by her advances, Giorgio, eventually decides that hers is a purer form of love.
The plot has all the implausibility of grand opera. In the real world, Foscaís behaviour would have had Giorgio running for a restraining order but, this being the theatre, he falls for her. In short, the plot is tosh, the question is whether itís high class tosh?
Sondheim being Sondheim, there is some clever subversion of the genre. Much of the story explores the nature of love, and in the more conventional love affair between Clara and Giorgio Sondheim cleverly emphasises the banality by resorting to cliche-ridden lyrics for their affair.
In a further twist, a Greek chorus of officers comment on the burgeoning relationship between Giorgio and Fosca, but, in defiance of theatrical convention, they completely misread the situation. So their commentary bears little resemblance to the truth.
Carol Metcalfeís production drags its heels occasionally - perhaps she was trying to replicate the oppressive nature of the protagonistsí situation - on the whole however she manages to maintain the psychological tension.
Metcalfe coaxes excellent performances from the leading players: Mark Carroll as a bemused Giorgio, Kate Arneilís Clare and, especially, Clare Burt as the troubled Fosca, conveying just the right blend of helplessness and selfishness, and bravely overcoming some rather over-the-top make-up. All of the chorus are equally strong, mixing cynicism with boredom in equal measures to amusing effect.
- Maxwell Cooter