A shattering secret changes family life forever in this funny and heartfelt comedy
It is hard to say which is more remarkable, the play itself or the story behind it. A Passionate Woman is the captivating tale of Betty's loveless marriage, her "bit of a thing" with the Polish neighbour in the flat below, and the grief she kept secret for 30 years after he was shot dead.
But it is the "back story" that makes it even more poignant. Veteran TV writer Kay Mellor based it on a real-life story. When the play premiered at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 1993, Mellor was questioned again and again at a Q&A session with the press. What was her inspiration for the tragic love story? And then her mother, who was present, stood up and shouted: "It was me!"
The play is set in the loft of a suburban Leeds house (Mellor lives in Leeds) on the morning of her son's wedding. Betty is taking refuge. She is about to "lose" the second man in her life. So she absorbs herself with therapeutic tidying. And reminiscing. Craze, the lover she lost, is a memory and a ghost. Mark, the son she adores, the slightly Oedipus character, is about to start a new life with his bride. And Donald? Donald is simply the husband she never loved, nor shared any passion with. Much of the first act is Betty's monologue, lamenting a life punctuated by rare moments of excitement, such as the opening of a new Asda on the ring road. And her relationship with Mark.
Much of the second act is about Mark's relationship with his dad - or the lack of one. Betty is matter-of-fact as in the face of life-changing revelations. Her life may have been wasted, she reasons, but there is still time to rekindle passions.
The small cast - Sue Radcliffe ( who directed Filomena) as Betty, Dominic Peberdy as Mark, Shane Barry as the sharp-suited Craze, Jon Comyn Platt as Donald and the brief cameo role of the bride Jo, shared by Lucinda Mann and Emma Sykes - all work well under Melvyn Bates’ direction.
Do not imagine for a moment that the play is bleak despite the storyline. It is quite the opposite - marvellously upbeat and life-affirming, beautifully executed as comedy and tragedy at the same time.
The end of the play is as unexpected as it is brilliant. Unless of course you saw it on television.
Andrew Mann, Dec 7, 2015