Passion by Stephen Sondheim



Photo credit: Mark Senior

Winner of four 1994 Tony Awards including Best Musical, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Passion is reimagined for this new production at the Hope Mill Theatre, which has been lovingly dedicated to the show’s late great composer and lyricist Sondheim.

The musical is based on both the Italian 1981 film Passione d’Amore (Ettore Scola) and the 1869 novel Fosca (Iginio Ugo Tarchetti), telling the story of Giorgio, a handsome army captain who is transferred to a new military outpost, and the relationships between him and his beguiling mistress Clara, from whom he has been separated from with his transfer, and his Colonel’s relentless, sickly, and physically undesirable cousin Fosca.  A rollercoaster of emotions, this thrilling and intimate story explores themes of passion, obsession, manipulation, and the cost of love.

With the combination of the book by James Lapine and music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Passion is masterfully written to adapt Tarchetti’s original story into a stage musical.  The emotional intensity of the story is captured perfectly with the libretto and lyrics, but also manages to add in just the right amount of humour to strengthen the audience’s connection with the piece.  Passion is known as one of Sondheim’s most emotional works, which is clear to any audience member as to why, but is perhaps not as well known as some of his other works – though it deserves to be.

Leading an outstanding cast in the role of Fosca is musical theatre icon Ruthie Henshall, who demonstrates, through her compelling emotional range in both scenes and songs, as well as her stunningly powerful vocals singing Sondheim’s complex melodies, that she is indeed worthy of her status as a legendary performer.  Playing opposite Henshall is Dean John-Wilson who portrays the role of Giorgio excellently with lots of depth to his character and has great chemistry with all members of the cast – particularly with the women of the company (Henshall and Kelly Price) to show both the development and regression of relationships between Giorgio and the characters of Fosca and Clara.  Supporting Henshall, John-Wilson and Price in a brilliant performance are Juan Jackson, Adam Robert Lewis, Ray Shell, Charlie Waddell, Tim Walton, Steve Watts, Danny Whitehead and of course the company’s swing Stuart Simons.

This staging of Passion would not have been possible without such a strong creative team behind it.  The direction from Michael Strassen really allows the story to flow seamlessly from scene to scene and also clearly indicates the separate locations of Giorgio and Clara as they both occupy the stage to sing their letter duets.  A minimalistic, stripped back set design by Elin Steele is a perfect fit for a less traditional theatre such as the Hope Mill and it really encapsulates the character of the venue, as well as creates a mysterious atmosphere alongside the lighting design (Charlie Morgan Jones) without distracting the audience from the complexity of the characters and Sondheim’s iconic musical style.  Since the compositions of Sondheim are known to be challenging for musicians to play, Musical Director Yshani Perinpanayagam and their band deserve plenty of praise for a wonderful performance of such a complex score.

For a musical named Passion, the cast and creatives of the production have certainly used their own passion for live theatre to create such an emotional yet haunting rendition of a classic Sondheim and Lapine musical.  The company have truly done the late great Sondheim and his romantic score justice with this monumentally thrilling performance.  Not a show to be missed, head on down to the Hope Mill Theatre to see Passion before its limited run ends.

***** Five stars

Reviewed by: Jess Dalloway