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Passion Play

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Oliver Cotton (Jim), Samantha Bond (Nell), Zoë Wanamaker (Eleanor), Annabel Scholey (Kate) and Owen Teale (James)

Sacred music and secular love: it's a potent combination in Peter Nichols' raw and rasping 1981 adultery play that comes across in this lacerating revival by David Leveaux as a bitter, twisted comedy of human fallibility and carnal ecstasy.

After 25 years, James and Eleanor's marriage is on the rocks - or is it? - because of his affair with a girl younger than his own grown-up children. Owen Teale and Zoe Wanamaker are the couple facing the music, and drowning in it, with Oliver Cotton and Samantha Bond playing their alter egos - Jim and Nell - in scenes of shattering, Strindbergian antagonism and unhappiness.

He is a picture restorer, she sings in choirs, and the girl, Kate, the daughter of a dead friend, is played by a stunning Annabel Scholey, flitting in and out of her clothes as easily as she sheds moral scruples in pursuit of older married men with well-paid jobs and mid-life crises.

This quintet, tearing each other to shreds, is prodded on the sidelines by Sian Thomas as a cynical widow with a social speciality in battered wives. Just when you think Nichols can go no further, he just did.

This is why he's such an exhilarating and depressing writer at the same time. And why his jagged, merciless dialogue is so compelling and uncomfortable to sit through. Leveaux and his actors never let us off the hook, to the extent even that it becomes hard to differentiate between the inner and outer expressions of the same character.

Wanamaker, for instance, becomes increasingly strained and tragic as Bond (or Miss Moneypenny, I suppose we should say, to avoid further confusion) becomes more explicit in her disavowals - having entered, stunningly, her own emotional hinterland 50 minutes into the play.

Equally, Teale's helplessness becomes a variation on Cotton's splenetic anguish, and the two of them meld into each other, as do the ladies, becoming almost identical twins, like the pairs of masters and slaves in The Comedy of Errors.

It was Michael Grandage's revival of this remarkable play at the Donmar Warehouse 12 years ago that triggered the Nichols revival, and this version, designed in an antiseptic limbo of white walls and neutral vistas by Hildegard Bechtler, underlines the savagery of Nichols' bleak mid-winter vision in an ironically godless world of unforgivable but totally understandable human weakness and self-indulgence.

Come on our hosted Whatsonstage.com Outing to Passion Play on 11 June 2013 and get your top-price ticket, a FREE programme and access to our EXCLUSIVE post-show Q&A with Zoe Wanamaker and cast all for £35.00! Click here for details


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