A Passionate Woman – New Wolsey Theatre

Your only son is getting married in a few hours, you’re all dressed up and ready to go. So what do you do next? Well, if you’re Betty Derbyshire, a 50-something doting mother, you head to the loft and barricade yourself in.

Ok not typical Mother of the Groom behaviour but Betty is suffering something of a mid-life crisis. She realises that she is seen as a devoted wife and mother but not as an individual woman.

Kay Mellor’s A Passionate Woman is a deeply personal account of a woman torn between her conflicting emotions, based on her own mother’s real life.

Although outwardly happily married, deep down Betty still has feelings for a man with whom she had a brief affair, memories that the impending nuptials only serve to reawaken with vivid reality. Will she come out of the loft for her beloved son’s wedding and what else will she find hiding in the dark recesses, apart from the old Christmas decorations.

It’s all a poignant and emotional affair, made more so by the fact that the author herself is playing Betty. Mellor obviously has a deep affinity with the material and turns in a beautifully detailed performance. Her Betty is a woman battling to maintain a front of respectability and control when barely beneath the surface she just wants to revert to her younger 19-year-old self and dance along to her record collection. There is a nice subtlety in the performance, Mellor building the drama from a slow Shirley Valentine-esque monologue into a portrait of a woman barely clinging to reality.

Director Gareth Tudor Price reunites Mellor with the majority of the cast from his 2010 Hull Truck production of the play and it’s a company that works well together.

Anthony Lewis as groom-to-be Mark is a delightful mix of pre-wedding nerves, torn between his bride-to-be and his mother’s descent, in his view, into madness. There is real chemistry between Mellor and Lewis in the pivotal mother/son relationship, one that verges on the obsessive but totally believable.

Hollyoak’s stalwart Stuart Manning works well as Betty’s past secret lover, Craze, while a change to the company from Hull Truck, James Hornsby as husband Donald provides perhaps the strain of sanity in this highly-strung situation.

Tudor Price’s direction makes full use of Foxton’s spectacular designs, springing visual surprise after visual surprise. He also cleverly paces the piece to allow focus on the intimate and moving when necessary before pulling out to allow the more farcical elements full flight.

A Passionate Woman is a carefully crafted look at forgotten dreams and how the echoes of the past can still haunt the future. Mellor’s script and performance contain real warmth and of course passion but there is also a sense of melancholy and coldness just beneath the surface for what could have been.

Betty shows that there is more to her than meets the eye and, here, Kay Mellor emphasises there is more to her than a TV writer; she shows that she is both a stage writer and actress of considerable skill, able to put the rawest of human emotion onstage with a deceptive ease.

Photo: Stuart Manning, Kay Mellor and Anthony Lewis in A Passionate Woman. Photo by Mike Kwasniak

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