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Passion PLay

by Lizzie Loveridge
The camaraderie of cock, how they stand together
--- Nell

As this play opened over Easter at the Donmar Warehouse, you could be forgiven for thinking that it is a play about Christ and his suffering on the cross. In fact the suffering is of a different kind, the suffering caused by sexual passion when the passion is for someone other than one's wife.

Though I found Peter Nichols' 1981 play is about betrayal a somewhat dated piece, its Spring run at the Donmar Warehouse was sold out. Hence its transfer to another theatre, the Comedy in Panton Street.

Apart from the fact that the play features two very well known actresses, the crowd-drawing device is that the two main characters are played by two people. The second character is not the id as in Shared Experience's production of Jane Eyre but a character who initially expresses the thoughts, the things left unsaid by the main character. The actors are dressed identically to help those who may be confused by the sudden appearance of Jim (Nicky Henson), James' other self.

The play details the marriage of James, (James Laurenson) a picture restorer who works from home, and his wife Eleanor (Cherie Lunghi) who is a professional singer of oratorio and large choral works. They have been happy together for many years when Kate (Nicola Walker) the young, live-in mistress of their old friend Albert, calls on them. Albert recently died leaving behind him an acrimonious widow, Agnes, (Gillian Barge) whom he deserted to live with Kate. Now Kate reveals that she is sexually attracted to James -- who follows up on this in his first venture in adultery. There are no really unexpected twists from thereon, with resentment and bitterness taking its obvious toll on James and Eleanor's marriage.

My unease at this play is the way in which the women are depicted. Agnes, bitter and vengeful against Kate, wastes no time telling Eleanor that Kate has now moved on to James. Kate is sexually voracious, predatory and insensitive. Eleanor, a seemingly intelligent woman, collapses at the breakdown of her marriage. Only Nell has a likeable personality. It is the female response to these situations which keeps this situation set in the early 1980s.

There are good performances from all the cast. James Laurenson's fumbly, bumbly, embarrassed James almost salivates at the prospect of an affair with a much younger woman, getting his sexual buzz from the excitement of the deception as much from the sexual encounters. Nicola Walker's finely judged Kate, is an attractive hedonist. Cherie Lunghi, strangely cast as Eleanor, loses her bounce as the play progresses. Nell (Cheryl Campbell), Eleanor's alter ego, is a more flamboyant and more spirited character. Gillian Barge is an aptly seething widow. Unusually there are six other actors playing minor roles and to give atmosphere to the crowd scenes.

The stage is raised at the Comedy, above the level of the stalls so Michael Grandage's direction, maybe set at the Donmar. Consequently, when James sprawls on the sofa, gives strange angles of vision whereby we can see his feet, legs and crotch perfectly, but not the upper half of his body.

There is glorious music, from Carmina Burana to Bach to the Requiems. Now that is something I can feel passionate about.

Written by Peter Nicholls
Directed by Michael Grandage

Starring: Cherie Lunghi, Cheryl Campbell
With: Gillian Barge, James Laurenson, Nicky Henson, Nicola Walker, Heather Craney, Judith Hepburn, Arthur Kelly, Francis Mauire,Tom Marshall, Katherine Stark
Design: Christopher Oram
Lighting Design: Hartley T A Kemp
Sound Design: Fergus O'Hare for Aura
Running time: Two hours twenty minutes with an interval
A Donmar in the West End Production at the Comedy Theatre, Panton Street, London SW1 (Tube: Piccadilly Circus)
Box Office: 020 7369 1731
Booking to September 9th 2000
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge on 29th June in Alexandria, VA based on 26th June 2000 performance at The Comedy Theatre, London SW1 London W1.

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