A PASSIONATE WOMAN
by Kay Mellor.
Queen’s Theatre Billet Lane RM11 1QT To 23 February 2013.
Tue-Sat 8pm Mat 16, 21 Feb 2.30pm.
Audio-described/BSL Signed 16 Feb 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr One interval.
TICKETS: 01708 443333.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 8 February.
Robust yet sympathetic revival let’s us hear it for the older ones.
There have been more than enough plays about mid-life crises, usually with a male focus, while Feminism brought many pieces about women’s lives in the 20th-century’s later decades. Kay Mellor combines both here, with comedy. Which is an achievement, seeing that under the surface lie the possibilities both of a breakdown and suicide.
What’s more, she creates at the centre the kind of ordinary, middle-aged woman who’d be the butt of smarter people’s jokes: a hausfrau bound and ground-down by mundane routine. Then Mellor shows her rising above it on the day her son’s marriage.
Even better, it’s set in Leeds, where the West Yorkshire Playhouse premiered the piece in 1992. For all its light manner and surface comedy, Mellor looks to the core of frustration in the intricate mass of streets between terraced houses and suburban über-affluence.
The sense of the neighbours watching emerges humorously. But first there’s the act in the attic, where Betty retreats to clean-up an hour before son Mark’s wedding. Here she suddenly meets – out of the woodwork and shadows in a deft moment of Bob Carlton’s strong production – a love of her younger days.
No-one else sees this figure of her imagination who revives her sense of romance, yet becomes, like the bored vicar’s wife Susan’s imaginary family in Alan Ayckbourn’s Woman in Mind, a dangerous temptation.
Rodney Ford’s realistically detailed set revolves to take Betty from attic to roof – and beyond in a final, unlikely step that carries the audience in sympathy with Marji Campi’s Betty. She becomes assertive while remaining kindly in manner, on the way to declaring she’s a passionate woman.
Even acknowledging that to herself is a major step, sweeping away the dust of many years. And it’s said with acceptance rather than as a fanfare, and comically so, as she rests against a huge rooftop satellite dish.
Mark Newnham as the fated ex-lover, Sam Pay as a frustrated loving son and James Earl Adair as a husband with his own passion to rediscover are also fine in Carlton’s production, which maintains comic pace while searching –out every emotional nook.
Donald: James Earl Adair.
Betty: Marji Campi.
Craze: Mark Newnham.
Mark: Sam Pay.
Director: Bob Carlton.
Designer: Rodney Ford.
Lighting: Christopher Howcroft.
Assistant director: Simon Jessop.