Theatre review: Passion Play, Duke of York’s, London

4.00

 

When Peter Nichols’s searing play of a modern marriage hit with a disruptive blast of sexual infidelity opened in 1981, one critic recounted a joke about Moses coming down from Sinai with the Tablets and announcing: “First the good news – I got ’em down to ten. Now the bad news – adultery's still in.”

Nichols, like Harold Pinter in Betrayal (1978) and Tom Stoppard in The Real Thing (1982) was charting a male menopausal wobble in a rueful, analytical mood of wider cultural disenchantment, and all three writers, at the peak of their form, were being remarkably honest and technically adventurous.

Nichols’s married couple, Eleanor and James – she’s a choral singer, he’s a picture restorer – are trailed by their alter egos, Nell and Jim, who start out as choric critical commentators but develop rapidly into more complicated voices of spiritual turmoil and dismay.

This quartet, organised with great finesse and musical variation by director David Leveaux on a sleek white design by Hildegard Bechtler, is played by Zoë Wanamaker and Samantha Bond as competing bubble-haired versions of the same innocent, soon shattered, recipient of a give-away love letter (no texts or twitters in those days); and by Owen Teale and Oliver Cotton as the baffled love rat whose betrayal is not really fuelled by falling out of love after twenty-five years.

The catalyst of chaos is a sleek, predatory sexual activist, Kate, whose former lover, Albert, now dead, was Oliver’s best friend and husband to Sian Thomas’s vengeful, catty Agnes; Agnes plants that letter, lights the blue touch paper, and stands back.

Kate, played with a stunning insouciance in a Louise Brooks page-boy haircut by Annabel Scholey, is one of those guilt-free creatures who sails above the carnage. She’s a goddess of hedonism in a show marked with outbursts of the sacred music Eleanor sings with the choir.

James can organise his love trysts by listening to these live broadcast concerts on the radio: he pulls on his trousers during the “Agnus Dei” of the Mozart Requiem, expertly aware that there’s only the “Lux aeterna” to come…but Eleanor herself had a one-off fling with Albert on the domestic sofa with Sarah Vaughan on the hi-fi.     

This sense of James’s behaviour renewing the marriage creates a rich emotional complexity that transcends even the formal divisions between the characters, and Wanamaker’s performance, especially, is one of infinite pain and dark intimations of mortality.

To 3 August (0844 871 7623)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
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.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam