A Passionate Woman – Review

A Passionate Woman

I’ve never ventured into any loft (spiders) but I’m conscious that, whichever home I’ve been in, they eventually get used to store memories, a family’s history consigned to trunks and old removals boxes, abandoned suitcases and toy crates.

We squirrel our lives away hoping, I suppose, that if we hold on to our bridal dress, the kids toys, photo albums and knick-knacks, we’ll never lose our emotional connection with the person or thing.

Kay Mellor’s A Passionate Woman, running this week at Northampton’s Royal & Derngate Theatre, is set in a loft, a darn sight cleaner than any I’ve poked my head in.

Middle-aged Betty Cheshire is having a midlife crisis on the morning of her son’s wedding. She’s refusing to come down, terrified of losing her son and being left alone with a husband she doesn’t love.

As much as I feel for her I can’t help thinking that A Selfish Woman would have been a more appropriate title. Can you imagine any mum refusing to attend her own adored son’s wedding? The long term impact of that on their relationship doesn’t bear thinking about.

The Everyman Theatre Cheltenham touring production, playing at the Royal & Derngate, Northampton, this week, is occasionally funny, acutely observant, rather surreal in places, and finely written but, although only running for 90 minutes, it struggles to maintain its impetus and interest for the duration.

According to the programme notes A Passionate Woman is the true story of Mellor’s own mother, who dropped a bombshell about her past at the same time that the playwright’s brother was getting married. It didn’t happen exactly like this but near enough.

The problem with the play is that it’s a 25-minute episode of a TV sitcom rather than a fully fleshed out stage drama.

You want there to be more than this, but A Passionate Woman fails to deliver. It says a lot about growing older, rites of passage, and a woman’s role in life generally but you yearn to find out more of the back story.

Her frustration at settling for a life that has proved second best will undoubtedly hit home with a number of women in the audience. There were a few knowing nods around me from women who empathised with her bitterness and desperation.

Liza Goddard struggles to maintain the Leeds accent but turns in an engaging, if one-note, performance as Betty. It’s Liza being Liza, scatty, garrulous and bubbly.

She’s dressed in her mother-of-the-groom outfit, in the loft, hiding out from her family. Hubby, and stereotype, bluff Yorkshireman (and ‘tightwad’ – Betty’s words, not mine) Donald (Russell Dixon), and suited-and-booted in his tails, son Mark (the always watchable Antony Eden), are calling out and searching the house. She refuses to answer.

Instead she regales the audience with gossip about the neighbours and family, and chatter about her visit to Asda, before barricading herself in to try and hold back the present while reliving the past.

The skeleton in her cupboard is an affair and the more desperate she becomes the more vivid the memories of, looking at the fashions, a fruity moment from her past in the 1970s.

There are revelatory moments, especially when we hear from Donald, and a lot of home truths revealed with poor son, Mark, stuck in the middle of his parents’ frank, if overdue exchanges.

But ultimately this rather thin drama should have been sharper, funnier or darker. It is amusing and thought-provoking but not overly so.

Playing on the Royal stage until tomorrow night.

Remaining tour dates

March 14-18, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford
March 21-25, Northcott Theatre, Exeter
March 28-April 1, Malvern Theatre, Malvern
April 4-8, West Yorkshire Playhouse

Review Rating
  • A Passionate Woman
3

Summary

Kay Mellor’s A Passionate Woman is occasionally funny, insightful and revelatory, but isn’t as funny or dark, or deep as it thinks it is.

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