Reviewed by Nikki Cotter
Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
With a book by long standing Sondheim collaborator James Lapine, (Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods) plus music and lyrics by the late, great Stephen Sondheim, Passion finds a new home in Manchester’s intimate Hope Mill Theatre with a stellar cast led by musical theatre legend Ruthie Henshall.
Based on the 1981 film, Passione d’Amore, which was inspired by Tarchetti’s 1869 gothic novel Fosca; the story introduces us to Giorgio, (Dean John-Wilson) a handsome young officer who is posted to a remote garrison in the mountains; separating him from Clara (Kelly Price), his married mistress in Milan. Once there, his Colonel’s intense and uncompromising cousin Fosca (Ruthie Henshall) begins a relentless pursuit of him, her obsessive chase as manipulative as it is mesmerising.
Henshall is wonderfully expressive as Fosca, her moments of lunacy and lucidity adding depth to this complex character. She is a tortured soul, her mental anguish leaking into her physicality, wringing her hands & cowering under her shawl one moment, shrieking and wailing the next. Her obsession with Giorgio sends him on a fascinating journey from self-assured soldier to self-doubting shell, as the absurd becomes actuality.
Dean John-Wilson makes an excellent Giorgio and portrays the characters complex transition convincingly. Kelly Price is a wonderful Clara, initially frothy and bright her journey too is compelling.
Director Michael Strassen uses the intimacy of Hope Mill Theatre to its full advantage, the synergy of the ensemble fills the theatre with the most sublime harmonies while the claustrophobia felt by Giorgio feels palpable and close.
Elin Steele’s set and costume design is simple but effective, while Charlie Morgan Jones’ atmospheric lighting brings light and shade to the piece. The five-piece band fit perfectly within the setting with Dan Samson’s sound design ensuring every note is crystal clear.
This is a piece I must confess I knew little about and was not disappointed. The storytelling is strong while Sondheim’s undeniable melodic style is identifiable from the first note. The cast are superb, their star quality ensuring this intense and strange tale never feels too heavy in this lovingly staged revival.
It’s a joy to see this impressive cast in such an intimate setting, they draw you into the emotion of the piece and keep you on your toes. It’s fascinating to see the joyful lyrics about love and happiness transfer from the light and carefree delivery of Clara into Fosca’s intense ownership by the end of the production. Special mention must also go to the ensemble who act as almost narrators at times, in the most perfect of harmony.
Passion is a quality piece of theatre, powerful, dramatic and beautifully crafted.
Passion is on at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre until Sunday 5th June tickets available https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/passion