A Passionate Woman, Yeovil Swan Theatre Company

IF you lose someone you love, can you wish hard enough to bring them back? That’s the premise of the wonderful film Truly Madly Deeply and for some of the time in A Passionate Woman you think that is what you are seeing.

The award-winning playwright Kay Mellor (Band Of Gold, Playing The Field, Between The Sheets, etc) says the play is based on a real experience of her mother’s and was written after the wedding of her younger brother.

Betty (Rachel Butcher) is up in the attic of the suburban house in Leeds where she lives with her husband Donald (Brian Williams) and her adored only son Mark (Jon Peckover). She is very smartly dressed to be in the attic – it is Mark’s wedding day. She clearly doesn’t want to go to the wedding.

Is she one of those obsessed mothers of spoiled sons, a future mother-in-law from hell for the new wife?

Mark scrambles up into the cluttered loft space to try to persuade her to come down. They talk – they always talk, they are each other’s best friends. They dance to a favourite scratchy old 60s vinyl record. She tries on a daffodil yellow dress with a tiny waist (“it was 24 inches” she tells the slightly sceptical Mark) and swirls the circular skirt as she dances. Suddenly she is 30 years younger, and Mark is still over the horizon.

But there is someone else in the attic – tall, handsome, with the hint of an attractive eastern European accent. Mark can’t see Craze (Dave King) but when a love letter from all those years ago is taken from his fingers and wafted around the room, he begins to doubt his own eyes, just as he is worrying about his mother’s sanity.

Has Craze come to take his adored mother away on his big day? And where is his father in all this?

At one level,  A Passionate Woman is a very funny play with a touch of magic realism; at a slightly deeper level it is about the difficulties and failures of communication between people who share their lives but not their inner feelings; and at an even deeper level, it is the story of a woman who has lived the life that the world, the neighbours and the men around her have expected, a life of duty to her (undemonstrative, dull) husband, focusing all her love and energy on her only child.

And what of Craze? Has she called him back because he was the love of her life? And what does he want?

Gradually the audience realises that what they are watching is Betty’s internal life taking physical shape and we are drawn into an understanding of the conflicts stirred up in a woman who is about to lose the only person whom she loves unconditionally, a woman who understands that she needs to listen to her own heart.

Rachel Butcher’s performance is a tour-de-force of suppressed anger, frustration and passion. She rolls back the years as she twirls in her yellow dress and we see the woman she was and the woman she might have been. For anyone who has watched someone (perhaps it was their mother) stepping out from the shell of ordinary life, sloughing off the carapace of convention in a suffocating marriage, it’s an exhilarating and moving performance.

Beryl Snadden’s direction keeps the pace up in this often farcical story, helped by convincing performances by the three men, a great set by the always clever Swan backstage team and Rachel Butcher, who dominates the action even when she is sitting, silent and unseen.

A memorable evening with a passionate woman.

13th March 2017

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