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Passion Play still ignites an old flame

I first saw Passion Play, Peter Nichols's lacerating black comedy about a 25-year marriage being ripped apart as a much younger me in 1982 when it had a profound impact on me –  so much so I went to see it twice.

So this production with so many big names – Zoe Wanamaker, Samantha Bond, Oliver Cotton, heroes all – was bound to be top of my theatre must-sees. But then I am always nervous of re-visiting past loves, often they have not survived the test of time, seem dated, disappoint, better left untouched as a memory. What ignites admiration in one’s 20s might not do so some years later.

However in this case, I am delighted to say, my pessimistic fears were unjustified. To me, of course, it was heavily redolent of the 80s but to a new audience, it will seem sufficiently contemporary, I believe. Phones always play a key role when it comes to adultery, I am sure infidelity became easier since the mobile phone arrived in our lives, and as adultery is very much the centre of Passion Play these phones are in boxes and coin operated. But that’s about the only thing that jarred the time sensibilities.

The use of the alter ego which was revolutionary in the original, still excites and surprises – and indeed amuses. So whilst Ms Wannamaker plays brilliantly the betrayed wife, Eleanor, Samantha Bond plays her inner self, Nel, to great and bitter sweet effect. In fact seeing these two women together on the stage in such strong roles was enough to satisfy this theatre goer. The same partnership works excellently with the men too, Oliver Cotton as Jim counterpointing Owen Theale’s husband James.

As this is a play about broken marriage and broken hearts it stands to reason there must be The Woman! And here, I felt, and it could just be me, was the weak link in the play, the love interest, Kate. Played by Annabel Scholey I found her a little frail and also not very clear of speech. However, it is more her existence than her character that causes the drama: she captivates the husband in the carefree careless way of the very young, leaving a betrayed wife and a broken marriage in her wake.

Catch Passion Play at Richmond Theatre till 20 April and thereafter at the Duke of Yorks theatre, both www.atgtickets.com

Sarah Hodgson is Editor-in-Chief at Time & Leisure Media Group