Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

passion pairings

Alter egos  Nell (Paula SNow) and Jim (Phil Nooney) look over the real egos of  James (Robert Hicks) and Eleanor (Maggie Lane). Pictures@ Alastair Barnsley and Emily White

Passion Play

Highbury Theatre Centre


Some people collect stamps, some fine porcelain, Kate collects men, particularly older men, and especially older married men.

She is the sort of woman one might describe, in polite circles at least, as accommodating. She also has the ability to keep love, romance and above all, sex, in separate boxes, sex seemingly being her favoured pastime.

All of which makes her the femme fatale, the bit on the side, quite a bit for quite a lot of people it seems, in Peter Nichols 1981 play about betrayal and adultery.

We open among mourners at the funeral of Albert, who had been the latest conquest of Kate, (Dominika Nala). She had moved in with him while Albert’s wife Agnes, (Alison Cahill), had been moved out and was now taking comfort in sniping and vitriol aimed at Kate. Woman scorned and all that.

Photographer Kate meanwhile, it transpires, couldn’t face being alone on the night of Albert’s send off, so had taken comfort in one of his friends. She is nothing if not enterprising.

Sympathising with Agnes are her friends James, (Robert Hicks), a self-employed picture restorer, and his wife Eleanor, (Maggie Lane), an enthusiastic amateur chorister, married for some 25 years and seemingly happy together. 

anes and equally betrayed Eleanor

Agnes (Alison Cahill) and Eleanor, wives betrayed by the same woman

Happy that is until Eleanor tells James that Kate had said she found him attractive, a throwaway line, just in passing. James professes he doesn’t find her at all attractive, but . . . ego can easily drift down to around the groin region, especially in older men where chance, even in fantasy, was thought long gone. The hare has been set running.

So, with James finding Kate unattractive, in a Biblical sense, on a regular basis, the lies and reception start. Nichols employs a sort of alter ego pair for James and Eleanor, with Jim, (Phil Nooney) and Nell, (Paula Snow).

They are invisible except to us, the audience, and they are dressed as their charges, becoming a sort of conscience, come advisor come inner thoughts made flesh. It can be a little confusing at times and it is a pity Nichols didn’t bother to give Kate her own alter ego so we could hear her inner thoughts and desires.

Instead, she comes out as a rather shallow, two-dimensional character, an easy lay, sex on a stick, yet she is the catalyst for everything that unfolds. She has to have feelings, hopes and fears in there, dreams beyond finding the next sexual encounter, after all she is the reason for betrayal, the temptation to stumble into mortal sin, or at least fall into bed.

And by act 2 we are probably going to need a bigger bed as she suggests not just James but being joined by Eleanor in a sort of equal opportunities shagfest.

It doesn’t come to pass though because after Kates has been away, sleeping around the world from Japan to San Francisco (why do we call it sleeping when that’s the last thing we mean?) she has fallen in love . . . he’s married and it lasts for at least a couple of weeks.

james and kate

Lustlorn James with the scantily dressed Kate (Dominika Nala) as alter ego Jim watches on

We also discover Eleanor has her own little secrets of a physical nature, in a what was good for the goose moment in the past, the goose not having even strayed from the pond at that point. With revelations comes mistrust, truth, lies, doubts . . . gone is the happy family, love, trust, fidelity and contentment. Every word, every outing, appointment, visit is now analysed with any reason or explanation doubted.

James tries to philosophise it all, which confuses things even more.

Alter egos and real people now seem to be heading in different directions, no longer speaking for their charges, but living their own lives and it all becomes somewhat confusing with no guiding hand to keep us on track.

The problem is that none of the characters, apart from perhaps Kate, come over as all that likeable, people you could relate to, and things were not helped by a distinct lack of pace and surfeit of prompts.

The cast also had to contend with a distinctly small audience which must have been disheartening for them, almost creating a dress rehearsal atmosphere. Your heart went out to them on that, it is hard enough to appear on stage and enthusiasm has to wane playing to so many empty seats.

There is humour, black at times, but it was too often passed over or hidden in the background rather than being played for the laughs it deserves, not helped, again, by audience numbers, still it is early in the run and with plenty of time to tweak things.

Directed by Colin Judges the passion with be rising to 16-04-22.

Roger Clarke


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