Passion Play, Duke of York’s Theatre, May 2013Posted on 8 May 2013
“My opinion is that most people come to grief for expecting too much of one another”, says Zoë Wanamaker’s Eleanor near the beginning of Peter Nichols’ 1981 play about marriage, adultery, and dare I say it … love. Certainly she doesn’t seem to expect too much of Owen Teale as her husband James.
He on the other hand, after being a faithful husband for ages, thinks he can have a ménage à trois with a sexy girl they both know. At first Eleanor allows it, condones it, even encourages it, perhaps out of guilt for her own dalliances, and even in Part II is still in denial, “James won’t fall in love, he has too much self-esteem”. But in the end it is too much, and as she says, “I had no cards left, except my life”. How does it all go so wrong?
This we learn through the characters Nell and Jim representing the inner selves of Eleanor and James. Samantha Bond as Nell is a determinedly intelligent woman, and Oliver Cotton as Jim is a slightly more tortured version of the affable, carefree James, who thinks himself so clever, denying the existence of things like love that others take for granted. His girlfriend, Annabel Scholey as Kate feels an intellectual pygmy by comparison, but she has something he completely lacks … let us not call it emotional intelligence, but shrewdness. She enjoys sex, and has tried a threesome, but what she really enjoys is the game, the manipulation of others. A hedonistic, amoral woman who “parks on double yellow lines, and goes straight to the front of the queue”, her devil-may-care attitude obviously appeals to him, but devils are a dangerous force, and we are left seeing him accede to their cunning, and dread how he may end up.
Eleanor and James are both in denial, she about his yearning for Kate, and he about his own emotional inadequacies. But while she has Sian Thomas as Agnes to warn her — a friend whose husband was previously purloined by Kate — he has no-one but himself, and even sends Eleanor to a psychiatrist.
The excellent acting under David Leveaux’s direction suggested life for the unsympathetic James would go deservedly pear-shaped, for it was he who expected too much, while Zoë Wanamaker as the foolish Eleanor gave a portrayal deserving our deepest sympathy.
Performances continue until August 3 — for details click here.