Duke of York's, London

Theatre review: Passion Play - Can I speak to the real operator?

3.00

An adulterous husband, a fragile wife, and their alter egos unravel in another Peter Nichols revival

We used to have angels on our shoulders, according to the old morality plays. There would be a bad one whispering devilish suggestions in our left ear while a good one – on the right side – tried to pull us back from temptation. You could say they were allegorical precursors of Freud's id and superego.

In Passion Play, Peter Nichols's 1981 portrait of adultery – now staged anew by David Leveaux – James (Owen Teale) is a middle-aged husband who can't resist a young, arty-tarty vamp (Annabel Scholey). A restorer of paintings, James initially appears a contented homebody, devoted to his choirmistress wife, Eleanor (Zoë Wanamaker). Yet he's up for an affair and, as he becomes increasingly infatuated with the licentious Kate, it threatens to destroy Eleanor's mental stability.

What's strikingly non-naturalistic is that husband and wife each acquires an incarnate alter ego. Oliver Cotton sports grey corduroys to match Teale's, and Samantha Bond serves as Wanamaker's curly-haired double. Given that the play's theme is people's unknowability, exactly what these doppelgängers represent isn't simple. They're mercurial.

Materialising when Teale's James begins to deceive his spouse, Cotton argues with him like an inner voice, urging him to confess. But then, when Eleanor suspects nothing, Cotton whoops like a shameless scamp. Bond enters the frame when Eleanor gets wind of the affair and falls prone to conflicted thoughts – bitter, paranoid and combative.

Cotton and Bond are also like an expanded version of theatrical asides, weaving sly comments among the spouses' outwardly pleasant conversations, not least when Kate is present as a supposed family friend. The alter egos, furthermore, start to supplant Teale and Wanamaker, as James and Eleanor's personalities are irrevocably changed.

Nichols, at 85, is enjoying an Indian summer of revivals, with Privates on Parade recently on in St Martin's Lane, and A Day in the Death of Joe Egg currently at the Rose, Kingston. Leveaux's production is assured, with a fine cast, potent bursts of Bach and Mozart, and a typically minimalist, chic set design (white walls, scarlet sofa) by Hildegard Bechtler.

One wonders if the dialogue might sometimes sound thin were it not double-layered, if Kate isn't a mere cliché in suspenders, or if James's spiels about Christ's passion aren't superficially applied. Ultimately, though, the play leaves you with a nagging sense of insecurity. Driven to despair, Wanamaker's once- confident Eleanor is searing.

For those craving romance, Larisa and the Merchants offers no consolation. In Alexander Ostrovksy's little-known Russian drama from 1878, a penniless belle with gypsy roots has been jilted by a swanky magnate, Paratov. Refusing to simper for other fat cats, Larisa (Jennifer Kidd) is now affianced to an uppity yokel, reckoning he'll be kinder. But she's wide-eyed all over again when Paratov (Sam Phillips) sails back into town.

The calibre of acting is uneven in this modern-dress, fringe production staged by Jacqui Honess-Martin on a long, narrow traverse. Samuel Adamson's new English version is slightly awkward, the satire seems unsure and the social hierarchies don't quite translate. Notwithstanding, the gypsy music is terrific and this is an intriguing piece, voicing a pre-Revolutionary urge that chimes with the current notion that some businessmen are psychopaths.

The establishment euphemistically referred to as a rest home in Harold Pinter's early play The Hothouse (Trafalgar Studios, London ****) is a dilapidated psychiatric hospital, where renegades are interrogated and tortured behind closed doors. We never get to see the inmates, only the staff who themselves, we glean, include homicidal maniacs.

The Trafalgar Studios' resident director, Jamie Lloyd, has assembled a mightily impressive cast for this rare revival, and they're clearly having a ball. Simon Russell Beale's Roote is a hilariously blustering governor, with a touch of Captain Mainwaring in his frequently startled expression, eyes bulging like ping-pong balls. He is dogged by John Heffernan's camp, sardonic Lush and by John Simm's backstabbing Gibbs, smug and natty in a 1950s suit and horn rims. Indira Varma as the torpedo-breasted minx, Miss Cutts, deftly sends up the B-movie stereotype.

The snag is that in 1958 the fledgling playwright wasn't yet the master of powerfully spare dialogue. This production has its motor-mouthed longueurs as well as amusingly absurd verbal flourishes. Moreover, compared with the National Theatre's revival of a few years back, it's low on truly chilling menace.

'Passion Play' (0844 871 7623) to 3 Aug; 'Larisa and the Merchants' (020-7503 1646) to 2 Jun; 'The Hothouse' (0844 871 7623) to 3 Aug

Critic's Choice

Conor McPherson's wonderful The Weir – set in an isolated Irish pub – is funny, tender and haunting if not hair-raisingly spooky, and is revived at London's Donmar Warehouse with Ardal O'Hanlon and Brian Cox (to 8 Jun). And director Andrew Hilton's highly commended Tobacco Factory production of Shakespeare's early comedy, Two Gentlemen of Verona, is touring to the Everyman, Cheltenham (Tue to Sat).

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished

TV reviewGrace Dent: Jimmy McGovern's new drama sheds light on sex slavery in the colonies

Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable