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Review of A Passionate Woman at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

There is something tremendously old fashioned about Kay Mellor's A Passionate Woman. Sure it is set "in the north" where in places time has stood still. However even in 1992 when this play first appeared, I am sure some of it would have felt rather quaint. It is not really a criticism though, as it is lovely to have a bit of nostalgia sometimes, especially if you are old enough to remember some of it. Such is the old style though, the rather forced updates that the play has received feel quite wrong. Comments referencing Kate Middleton pitched alongside those of Sarah Ferguson jar a little, making it clear that the modern has been shoehorned in. I wonder also if the mobile phone scene was in the original as well, historically it could have been. However would it have been in keeping with the setting? Personally I think not.

Set in the attic of a house in Leeds, A Passionate Woman is part monologue, part romantic drama, part kitchen sink drama and part farce. It is a pacy and funny, and a brief (at 95 minutes including interval) piece of frivolity, which underlying has a lovely air of sadness and regret as well. It is never going to set the world on fire, there are many more much better plays out there. However it is never short of entertaining and benefits in this production from a quality cast.
Liza Goddard (Betty) and Antony Eden (Mark).
Leading the four performers is Lisa Goddard as Betty. fondly and distantly remembered for those old enough from Bergerac. In A Passionate Woman, she gives a lovely performance, full of mischief in her sparking against her son and husband, and longing for what may have been in her meeting with the ghost of Craze. It truly is a delightful performance.

Perhaps even better though is Antony Eden's Mark, the aforementioned son. This is a brilliant comic performance on all levels, and he remains the strongest in all the scenes he appears including a brilliant one with his father, Donald where he has a lovely tender moment. Played by Russell Dixon. Donald is perhaps the most caricatured role, all bluff and northern, however Dixon and the script eventually manage to etch a little more life into the character as it goes on. This leaves you eventually loving the character beyond his Andy Capp exterior. Completing the cast is Hasan Dixon as Craze. Portraying a ghost on stage is always going to be a challenge, but he deftly handles it and adds a surprising amount of life to his deceased role.
Liza Goddard (Betty) and Antony Eden (Mark).
Director Paul Milton keeps the action moving in the cramped and cluttered space of the wonderful antic created by designer Michael Holt. He also succeeds in making the end work on stage as the play crashes into a spectacularly bizarre finale. I would never wish to spoil how this play manages to finish, suffice to say you don't see it coming and even when it has, you can little believe it. It is also fabulous to see an assistant stage manager a moment in the limelight (for the right reason), go Emma Nairne-Thomas!

A Passionate Woman is a curious mix of genres which just about works. It is perhaps a little short, however its brevity maybe does help it whip along at a pleasing pace. It does come recommended, however don't expect fireworks and the end does at least make you leave thinking that the ghost wasn't the most ridiculous part of it.

«««½


Performance reviewed: Tuesday 7th March, 2017 at the Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton.

A Passionate Woman runs at the Royal & Derngate until Saturday 11th March, 2017
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For further details visit the Royal & Derngate website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/

Photos: Thousand Word Media
Hasan Dixon (Craze) and Liza Goddard (Betty).

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