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A Passionate Woman – Leeds Playhouse

Reviewer: Ray Taylor

Writer: Kay Mellor

Director: Tess Seddon

A Passionate Woman makes a triumphant return to the very stage it debuted 30 years ago in memory of Kay Mellor, its much-missed writer who died a year ago. If audience response is anything to go by, it will continue to be a roaring success for many performances to come and a fitting tribute to the genius of its iconic playwright and screenwriter.

The play’s main character is Betty who, on the day of her son Mark’s wedding, retreats to the loft to want to be alone with her memories. Although very happy for her son on the surface she is a wife and mother full of regrets for the life she has led and the marriage she has found herself in. The play is set in the 1990s but Betty often reminisces to the 1950s and thinks about the decisions she’s made, the roads she’s left untravelled and all the what-ifs and maybes all of us probably think about. This is why the play so resonates with audiences because we can all identify with Betty as we think about our own lives and experiences and wonder what might have happened if we’d made a different decision or things had turned out differently.

Because of the nature of the piece Betty holds the action throughout and her presence is either physical or, for a short period in the second half, felt as she is “absent” whilst sitting on the roof and her son and dad Donald are discussing her whereabouts. It is vital then that the actress playing this role has a rapport with the audience and can carry what is a very demanding responsibility throughout its length. Katherine Dow Blyton achieves this triumphantly as she evokes a sense of humour, fun, laughter, bathos, sympathy, empathy and identity with her plight. She is the very essence of the play’s title, A Passionate Woman, who lives out her life on what should be one of the happiest days of her life as she struggles to come to terms with her current situation and the future she faces – without the son whom she adores, her seemingly loveless marriage and the haunting memory of a passionate love affair she enjoyed with a young Polish man, Craze. Katherine is a very experienced stage and television performer who brings all her stage craft to bear in this central role. The audience warm to her from her very first appearance as she climbs into the loft and stays with her throughout until her final, bittersweet climax in a balloon – you have to be there to see it!

The rest of the small cast – Tom Lorcan as Mark, David Crellin as Donald and Michael Bijok as Craze – are all excellent and completely credible in their respective roles. There is a lovely spark between them all and they convey the sense of really enjoying their characters. All have been extremely well cast and inhabit their roles perfectly. They deliver some laugh out-loud-moments whilst simultaneously never losing sight of the underlying poignancy and emotion of the piece and they must all be congratulated for this.

The staging and set design is simple but extremely effective. The one basic set of a loft opens out in the second half to the roof, so realistically done that it induced a degree of vertigo in this reviewer. Set designer Rosie Revitt says that she “wanted to create a space that feels like it’s waking up at the same time as Betty’s passion is waking up” and she has admirably achieved this. Revitt’s believes that everybody has objects that hold a lot of meaning for them and that a lot of us can probably relate to a certain object from the past evoking a whole range of memories. In this she is spot on as we see Betty playing out her past life on this wonderful set. The whole production is beautifully tied together by Director Tess Seddon who herself has personal roots in Leeds.

Runs until 10 June 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

A passionate triumph

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The Reviews Hub - Yorkshire & North East

The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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