Review – Passion – Donmar Warehouse


Let’s start out by saying I’m no Sondheim fanatic. In fact, until two years ago, I did not care for him at all based on the two versions of Into the Woods I’d seen. However, A Little Night Music (at the Menier) gave me an inkling that there might be more to him that first met the ear, and Company convinced me there was. And, well, apparently everyone likes him, so perhaps this was a late arrival for me. I thus jumped on the chance to see an early performance of Passion at the Donmar Warehouse. As usual, I did nothing to inform myself before the show so I could take it in raw: I only knew that it would be one hour and forty minutes with no interval (and thus, to me, a perfect post-work show).

Passion is a decidedly weird show. At first I thought it was about frustrated lovers, and thought there might be an early suicide (in the traditional “passion is bad” style of the era it was set in, seemingly any time from 1810-1890); then I thought we might have a true love tale; then I thought it was all going to go very, I don’t know, stalkery, kinda The Woman in Black meets Fatal Attraction, but it managed to completely elude all of my guesses and become none of these things whatsoever. There was a soldier (Giorgio, David Thaxton), and a girl (Clara, a very nubile Scarlett Strallen in fluffy wigs), then a bunch of soldiers and (to spice it up) another girl (Fosca, Elena Roger), a sickly one who starts the play off screaming from her distant room like the wife in Jane Eyre. As we’re feeling sorry for the soldier separated from his girlfriend and hostile to the clingy, freaky sick girl, suddenly it comes out that Clara is actually a married woman, and suddenly Giorgio’s relationship with her seems a little … bizarre. What was it built on, really?

I could go on about the plot, which made no sense to me, but I’d rather get to the point and say I did not care for this show. There was singing, but there was little in the way of memorable music of any sort. Despite her intense and hair-raising performance, I was disturbed by Elena Roger’s intense Piaf-isms; I kept expecting her to launch into “La Vie en Rose” (and I had never seen Piaf so I was going purely based on her voice and not the memory of what she’d done before, but the sound is, to me, that of a particular person, and NOT the sound of a character in a Sondheim show). Strallen and Thaxton executed nicely, but their performances could not paste over holes in the plot so wide a ski jump could not have helped them bridge the gap.

But you know what could have? A really excellent song or two. And today I saw another musical, of an older vintage (1968 vs 1994), which convinced me in a song about making a cup of tea that a society artist had fallen in love with an ignorant widow. It doesn’t matter that I saw a preview (and spent 20 minutes wondering if the actors were going to slip on spaghetti or 10 minutes earlier wondering if anyone was ever going to shut that damned door upstage); I just don’t think Passion is all that good. I’m sure the run will be sold out all the way through and people will convince themselves that they saw a great show; meanwhile, I’ll be looking eagerly forward to the Union Theatre’s revival of Bells Are Ringing at the end of the month.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Friday, September 10th. The show runs through November 27th and is already sold out. I’ve got a ticket for a show November 10th: if you’re really dying to see it, make me an offer. Meanwhile Paul In London’s review is so opposed to mine I feel it worth pointing out in a point/counterpoint kind of way. Truth be told, Elena Roger did really own the role of Fosca, but I still hated the show.)

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3 Responses to “Review – Passion – Donmar Warehouse”

  1. Margarita Says:

    It’s extraordinary how you not only have a tin ear unable to appreciate stunning melodic invention but that you have the courage of your ignorance to spread it to others.

    It really isn’t up to you to inform the world that Stephen Sondheim’s reputation is unfounded and were you to take the trouble to listen to music – any music – thoroughly and repeatedly you may discover in it the values and pleasures apparent to other people.

    • webcowgirl Says:

      Wow! That’s me told off. Do you think Mr. Sondheim is crying over his cornflakes that I abused him so? Horrifying to think my blog review may have singlehandedly destroyed his career, given my great scope and influence.

      As for my tin ear, wfrom which you’ve determined that I don’t listen to music … you could do with absorbing the old adage, “Different strokes for different folks.” May I encourage you to write your own counter-review?

  2. Russells Theatre Reviews Says:

    Ouch! As Voltaire once said “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.

    Margharita, reviews are, simply, just someone else’s opinion and, whether they are a pro or amateur reviwer, everyone has the right to express their own views in their own review. Personally I loved it – even though it is admittedly not one of Sondheim’s most hummable works and heavy on the operatic emotions. But if WCG didn’t like it, thats fine with me. And so it should be with everyone else. Her review expresses her opinion, and backs up why the show didn’t “do it for her”.

    If you care to write your own review of “Passion”, then we will either agree or disagree with your opinions as we see fit. But we won’t be quite so rude about your opinions!

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