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Passion Play post-show discussion, hosted by The Times

11 June 2013 17:23

Last Tuesday, after the performance of Passion Play, The Times hosted an enjoyable Q&A event with the whole cast. 

Addressing the play's shifts in mood from comedy to drama, the host began the questions by asking the actors whether the play was fun or funny to perform.

'Depends which part [you play]!' quipped Annabel Scholey, whose character, James' mistress Kate, is relatively unaffected by the emotional fallout from the affair around which the plot revolves.

For Owen Teale (James), Passion Play can be funny to perform if you 'pretend not to know how it ends'; otherwise, the actors are very aware of the plot's tragic elements.

An added layer of complexity results from what Samantha Bond described as the 'technical challenge' of performing a play in which the inner voices of the two main characters, James and Eleanor, are embodied as alter-egos.  As Eleanor's alter-ego, Nell, Bond needs to dress, move, and speak in ways that closely match Zoë's performance as the outer self.  With the play's technical complexity in mind, Teale described the level of difficulty when rehearsing as 'fiendish'.

The host wondered whether the inner and outer selves are inextricably linked or each have some degree of independence.  Teale indicated that the latter was true, explaining that he views Eleanor/Nell or James/Jim as 'separate entities', with 'common ground' between them.  Oliver Cotton (Jim) agreed, emphasising that although the inner and outer selves are linked, they tread 'different paths'.

The difference between the ways in which Eleanor and Nell, for example, respond to particular events in Passion Play can often be a source of great humour, especially in scenes that highlight the disparity between what is said and what is thought.  At other times, particularly towards the end of the play, the gulf between the inner and outer selves can be very sad.

The cast agreed that the alter-egos appear as a result of Eleanor's and James' marriage reaching a 'crisis' point.  Zoë explained that she interprets Eleanor/Nell or James/Jim as 'two halves of the same character', and that 'the inner voice comes out when called upon'. 

When the inner and outer selves do not behave in exactly the same way, their actions are proof that (in Zoe's words), 'sometimes we don't listen to it [our inner voice]', regardless of whether or not it may have our best interests at heart.  As Bond noted, sometimes Nell tries to protect Eleanor - but that does not always result in Eleanor paying attention to or following the advice of her alter-ego.

Broadly speaking, the arrival of Nell and Jim reminds the audience that we all have 'many characters within us', Teale pointed out.

Clearly, the cast members find the dynamic between the characters in Passion Play fascinating.  Zoë had not read or seen the play before working on this production, but emphasised that she was drawn to the work largely because of director David Leveaux's particular interpretation of it.  She is inspired by 'his imagination ... his vision' for Passion Play.  Leveaux (who also directed Zoë's award-winning Electra in the UK and US) wants the production to 'focus on the characters' and explore the relationships between them, Zoë noted.  As a result, the company has fewer actors than are described in playwright Peter Nichols's text, and Hildegard Bechtler's set is deliberately stark.

The intense focus on Eleanor, James, and their alter-egos makes the play feel 'like a piece of music', commented Teale.  The host agreed, and likened the four central characters to the members of 'a string quartet', in which each participant must contribute to and be supported by the whole.  Continuing this comparison, Scholey emphasised that good 'rhythm' is essential to performing Passion Play successfully.  If something goes wrong, joked Cotton, the actors fall down like 'dominoes'!

The actors have clearly worked extremely hard to make performing a very complex play appear effortless.  Certainly, audiences are very impressed and often deeply affected by the production.  As Zoe emphasised, theatregoers she has spoken to consider the play 'a revelation'.

You can buy tickets to Passion Play from ATG Tickets.  The show runs until 3 August.

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