Review: A Passionate Woman

By John Jeffay, May 27, 2011
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Oldham Coliseum

Kay Mellor, here with Stuart Manning, plays her own mother in an uplifting story of love and loss

Kay Mellor, here with Stuart Manning, plays her own mother in an uplifting story of love and loss

It is hard to say which is more remarkable, the play itself or the story behind it.

A Passionate Woman is the captivating tale of Betty's loveless marriage, her "bit of a thing" with the Polish neighbour in the flat below, and the grief she kept secret for 30 years after he was shot dead.

But it is the "back story" that makes it even more poignant. Veteran TV writer Kay Mellor based it on a real-life story. When the play premiered at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 1993, Mellor was questioned again and again at a Q&A session with the press. What was her inspiration for the tragic love story? And then her mother, who was present, stood up and shouted: "It was me!"

Mellor crystallises that sense of shock and emotion into a thing of beauty as she takes her mother's role on stage here. The passion, the grief and the regret are all there, yet the play is neither maudlin nor sentimental.

Do not imagine for a moment that it is bleak either, despite the storyline. It is quite the opposite - marvellously upbeat and life-affirming, beautifully executed as comedy and tragedy at the same time.

Everything in it is in perfect proportion. Mellor's lines as Betty are so completely natural, it is hard to imagine she had to write them down. And as a performer she is utterly convincing.

The play is set in the loft of a suburban Leeds house (Mellor, who is Jewish, lives in Leeds) on the morning of her son's wedding. Betty is taking refuge. She is about to "lose" the second man in her life. So she absorbs herself with therapeutic tidying. And reminiscing.

Craze, the lover she lost, is a memory and a ghost. Mark, the son she adores, the slightly Oedipus character, is about is about to start a new life with his bride. And Donald? Donald is simply the husband she never loved, nor shared any passion with.

Most of the action takes place in the loft, but there is a clever twist to the plot - and the set - that I cannot reveal.

Much of the first act is Betty's monologue, lamenting a life punctuated by rare moments of excitement, such as the opening of a new Asda on the ring road. And her relationship with Mark. Much of the second act is about Mark's relationship with his dad - or the lack of one.

Betty is matter-of-fact as in the face of life-changing revelations. Her life may have been wasted, she reasons, but there is still time to rekindle passions.

The small cast - Anthony Lewis as Mark, ex-Hollyoaks actor Stuart Manning as the sharp-suited Craze, James Hornsby as Donald and Amy Olive in a very brief cameo as the bride Jo - all work well under Gareth Tudor Price's direction.

The end of the play is as unexpected as it is brilliant. Unless of course you saw it on television. Mellor adapted the play for the BBC. It worked on screen and it works, albeit very differently, on stage. If you did view it on TV, I would still urge you to see this gem of a production. You are unlikely to witness anything better this year.

(Tel: 0161 624 2829)

Tel: 0161 624 2829

    Last updated: 10:18am, May 27 2011