Review: A Passionate Woman, by Kay Mellor, New Wolsey Theatre, until May 14

A Passionate Woman, by Kay Mellor, New Wolsey Theatre, until May 14 2011

As Betty (Kay Mellor) scrambles through the trapdoor into designer Foxton’s loft to begin her opening monologue she does so amid the debris of a marriage turned sour. The untimely death of her Polish lover, Craze (Stuart Manning) left her bereft and unfulfilled. Her only and adored son is just an hour away from marrying.

Director Gareth Tudor Price had his work cut out keeping A Passionate Woman fresh as many will recall the television adaptation where Billie Piper wears the satin yellow dress. Comparing television to theatre is never a good idea so the day is saved by how Betty wears the dress, ill-fitting and slightly ridiculous, a focus for her regret as she works through her midlife crisis.

Betty is joined by son Mark (Anthony Lewis) demanding an explanation of her behaviour on this, his Big Day. He gets a little more than he bargained for, as his mother appears to have lost her marbles. His confusion deepens when he learns of Craze but when father Donald (James Hornsby) joins him in the attic the two reach a new, mutual understanding.

As the play unfolds it moves through tragi-comedy to pathos and, in the second act, tips over into farce. Directional change is highlighted by the marvellous use of Foxton’s turntable stage as Betty’s despair takes her up onto the roof. Will she settle for Donald, or halt the wedding, or stay in the past with Craze, who is still so vividly in her head? The solution is both entertaining and technically amazing.

Carol Twinch