Stephen Sondheim’s Passion is perhaps one of his more complex works, a deeply dark tale with no conventional numbers, it is not an easy viewing. As part of its birthday tribute to the octogenarian composer, the Donmar Warehouse turns out a ravishing production. Given the intimate nature of the score, it works well as a chamber musical and it’s here the Donmar excels.
The tale of an unconventional love triangle, betrayal and death, Passion is not a barrel of laughs but it does carry some of the composer’s most compelling music. Passion is in fact perhaps a misleading title with Obsession being a more accurate reflection. Terminally ill Fosca’s obsessive love for handsome soldier Georgio driving both to the edge of reason.
Given its tone, Passion is perhaps more cast dependent than most and here is where a slight niggle enters. At its heart is the doomed love triangle of Fosca, Georgio and Georgio’s married mistress, Clara. While all the cast sing perfectly, and this show sounds the best musically it has ever done, there are more spoken lines than you would normally find in a Sondheim show. David Thaxton and Scarlett Strallen perform well as Georgio and Clara but Elena Roger’s return to the Donmar raises a few concerns. While her voice tears at the heartstrings during her musical numbers, her spoken lines fail to convince. It’s a performance not helped by some Hammer Horror parody make up and a tendancy to stalk the stage. It’s a small annoyance and a performance that grows on you, however.
Christopher Oram’s simple but effective designs and Neil Austin’s wonderfully atmospheric lighting create an evocative backdrop to this doomed love affair. Thanks to Terry Jardine’s and Nick Lidster’s sound design the score has never sounded better; Alan William’s musical direction balanced perfectly against the cast. Jamie Lloyd directing chooses wisely to focus on the intimate nature of the piece. Lloyd also decides to play the piece through with no interval. While this makes for a lengthy act, it does allow the tension to build well during the piece.
Passion may not be Sondheim’s finest work and is not easy viewing but this production proves to be a loving birthday present to the composer.
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