Writer: Margaret Perry
Director: Jessica Lazar
An Easter drama at Christmas may seem an odd choice but with the months slipping by rapidly this year in a blur of staying home, for many of us the last time we were in the real world was Easter and it may be Easter again before any sense of normalcy returns. Margaret Perry’s 32-minute audio drama uses the Passion Play concept to explore the complex relationship between religious belief and sexuality as two teenagers navigate the pitfalls of unexpected attraction.
Set in Cork in 2015 as Ireland went to the polls on the subject of legalising same-sex marriage, Bridie is a 14-year-old Catholic girl nervously awaiting a lift from her brother after the rehearsal of a school Passion Play. In the car park she meets the more worldly Sam waiting for her father who teases Bridie about religious practices and their meaning. As the pair strike up a friendship, a warmer connection develops.
Perry’s two-hander takes place across seven individual scenes lasting around 4 minutes each in which the central pairing is left alone in the period after rehearsals have concluded. The chemistry between the characters is established almost instantly with a real feel for the hesitant certainty of the teenage girl trying out adult views and opinions without entirely being sure if they suit her own temperament and beliefs.
A Passion Play has great character sketches and a strong scenario around which it builds the drama, with the contrasting nature of the deeply religious Bridie anxious about sharing her beliefs and determined to lead a ‘normal’ life with marriage and children already laid out, and the blithe Sam whose forthright conversation and behaviour can seem overly-aggressive. That the listener subtly wills the pair to find common ground is testament to Perry’s skill and the ordinariness of the car park setting in making both relatable.
Yet, with such short scene structures and the need to show time passing in order to make the attraction more credible, the opportunity to delve deeper into these characters is lost. Several personality hints are dropped but not fully developed including Sam’s aggressive tone when speaking to her father on the phone, her English accent making her a new arrival at the school and just why she so vehemently denies the existence of a God. Just as the listener is getting to know them, the story ends.
Nicola Coughlan’s Bridie is sweet and reticent at first, capturing the inherent shyness of her character but building a confidence as she gets to know Sam better that allows to stand her ground when her friends disrespects the sanctity of the church. Hannah Bristow brings energy to Sam whose wider experience seems less happy than the character admits, but with few redeeming features other than caring for Bridie, Bristow keeps the listener on her side.
Perry tells an important story about belief and sexuality being more closely aligned, retaining a respect for the teachings and values of Catholicism. With discussions about the expectations placed on teenage girls, the role religion plays in different kinds of societies as well as LGBTQ+ political rights, 32-minutes just isn’t quite enough.