A Passionate Woman is set both in and on a small, wonderfully made attic (congratulations to designer Rodney Ford), where the lives of four characters, three living and one dead, unfold and unravel.
Mark’s wedding day is thwarted by his mother Betty locking herself into said attic and stubbornly refusing to come out. Here follows a long duologue between mother and son as the latter pleads and wheedles with her to come down while she rambles on about the regrets in her life (cue gossip about the neighbours and descriptions of trips to Asda).
Then a ghost walks in.
Craze, who Mark cannot ‘see’, is Betty's long-dead but never-forgotten lover. There is lots of reminiscing, lots of dancing to a dusty record-player, and lots of bewilderment on Mark’s part as he tries to get his head around his mother’s infidelity (and, of course, the presence of a ghost). Craze represents the ‘passion’ in Betty’s life, which is drawing to its final quarter now, as her 31 year-old son is on the brink of moving out and leaving her.
Betty feels totally unappreciated and believes her husband has treated her with nothing but neglect their entire marriage. Indeed, the first act sets him up to be a terrorising and abusive brute; but when he finally appears, he proves to have a considerate amount of compassion for his unreasonable wife. In fact, he's the most likeable character of the four. The awkward on-stage interactions of the old wife and her young lover-ghost however had us squirming slightly in our seat.
The play escalates as father and son have a good old one-to-one while Betty silently transfers herself to the roof, distancing herself further from the wedding crowd below and provoking her family to follow her. We won’t spoil the end, but it had next to no credibility and no resolution; the relationships created and cultivated throughout the play amounted to nothing.
That said, there were loud laughs, sweet moments and fantastic Yorkshire accents throughout. It’s a safe one for the family and is a vivid depiction of humdrum domesticity. But at times, what was supposed to be the portrayal of a housewife dreaming of her passionate youth felt more like just a crazy woman in an attic having a good moan.
A Passionate Woman runs until the 23 February at Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch, Billet Lane, Hornchurch RM11 1QT. Show times are every day at 8pm, 2.30pm matinees; tickets range from £10 (for under 26) to £24.50. Visit queens-theatre.co.uk to find out more.