Passion is the show that divides even Sondheim devotees. There are die-hard admirers who find the score – which instead of songs offers a nagging network of motifs and internal echoes – in singularly short supply of the eponymous commodity. Its gothic story has been dismissed as simultaneously distasteful and incredible. But Jamie Lloyd's Donmar revival of this rebarbative 1994 musical makes a compelling case for its power to unsettle and affront.
Contending for the soul of the handsome soldier, Giorgio, are his blonde, married mistress, Clara (a rather blank Scarlett Strallen) and the plain, sickly, recluse, Fosca, who latches onto him with the single-minded force of an incubus when he's dispatched to her cousin's garrison in a dreary provincial outpost.
In ferociously good voice, Elena Roger, twists her natural allure into that eerie distortion of glamour: the neurotic invalid's tyrannical, manipulative pathos. She manages to make this both moving and creepily comic especially in the great scene where Fosca, from her sickbed, presumptuously dictates to the reluctant Giorgio the love letter she would like to receive from him. Officially, this character's relentless, unconditional love for him is supposed to be redemptive, cracking the hero open to true feeling. But at what cost to the sanity of David Thaxton's sensitively intelligent, ardently well-sung Giorgio who winds up a wreck?
Lloyd heightens the phantasmagoric quality of the show, underlining the sinister way in which the scene-shifting soldiers effectively become a back-up chorus for the stalking Fosca. He doesn't downplay the tear-jerker ending, but you may feel here that there's tension between the blessed and the brainwashed in Giorgio's babbling insistence that the dead heroine's love will live in him. Her prediction continues to sound predatory in a piece that should be renamed "Obsession".
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