Review – Passion, Donmar Warehouse

Friday 17 September 2010

The scene: a luxurious apartment in BA (that’s Buenos Aries). Argentina’s foremost musical theatre actress Elena Roger is luxuriating on a chaise longue, probably eating a steak, humming a tango and idly toying with her boleadoras (That’s the sum of our knowledge about the Argentine, sorry. You’ll have to add your own colour to the picture). A telephone rings.

Voice: Hello, Elena. It’s Michael Grandage here.

ER: Sorry. Eees a ferry bad larn. Bandage?

MG: No, Grandage. (pause) Michael Grandage? Artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse? You were in our Piaf.  You were our Piaf.

ER: Ah, Meester Grandage ! Ow are you? And ‘ow is Meester Orme?

MG: Oram. He’s fine. Listen, I want you to come back to the Donmar.

ER: You waarn me to geeve my Piaf again?

MG: No.

ER: No worry. I geeve it anyway. (Warbles:) Quand il me prend dans ses bras…

MG: Well, actually it’s set in Italy.

ER: Eees next to France. I geeve my Piaf anyway. What ees it?

MG: It’s called Passion.

ER: I know all abow passion. Piaf was passionate. (Warbling:) Il me dit des mots d’amour…

MG: Yes, well, anyway. It’s by Stephen Sondheim with a book by James Lapine based on Ettore Scola‘s film Passione d’Amore (Reading from marketing material:) It “examines the power of love in a haunting story of desire, sacrifice and redemption” apparently. It’s rather dull and short on tunes but… Well, anyway it’s about a soldier who’s having an affair with a pretty married woman but then he starts getting attention from this ugly woman who falls in love with him.

ER: And you want me to play zis pretty married woman… I see.

MG: Can we, er, park the casting details for the moment. Now I’ll be completely honest with you, this is a minor Sondheim and it’s not one of his best but because he’s been spreading his 80th birthday out over the whole year, we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel for things to do frankly. I had to snap this one up; didn’t dare risk leaving it until I take over the National Theatre (Oh, did I say that aloud? I didn’t mean to say that aloud. Ignore that.) or bloody Babani would have nabbed it for the Menier. All there was left was this or that Wise Guys/Bounce/Road Show thing. When I get to the National (Ha ha ha. Did I say the  National? Ignore me.) I’ll get Sondheim to write some more. Anyway, the Sondheimites will love it regardless. And we’re really pulling out the stops on this one. Jamie Lloyd‘s directing and of course I’m getting ‘im indoors to design it and we’re going to have real food on stage. The Whingers will love that.

ER: What sort of fud? Ees Argentinian beef?

MG: Veal and carrots.

ER: Veal I ave to eet eet?

MG: Goodness no, Elena. We have to keep you as thin and sickly looking as possible.

ER: Seeekly? Why seeekly?

MG: (Hastily:) And we can’t stretch to veal. Ha ha ha. Even when we sell every ticket for every performance we can only raise 45% of our necessary annual budget. We get an additional 15% from Arts Council England, and we rely on our friends and sponsors for the remaining 40% which translates into over £1.3 million each year. Anyway, We’re toying with char-grilled chicken or pork or possibly Mother’s Pride. But the carrots will be real. They’ll be utterly convincing.

ER: But what ees my motivation?

MG: Fosca’s, very, very sick so don’t eat before you come over we need to make you as unattractive as possible.

(There is a very long pause)

MG: You’re not eating now are you?

ER: (Stops chewing steak) No. Can’t I play ze pretty one?

MG: No, goodness no, Elena this is the showy part. Maria Friedman won the Olivier for it last time round. Anyway I’m thinking of one of Bonnie Langford’s nieces for Clara.

ER: Which one?

MG: Either of them. Whichever one isn’t the one that’s appearing in Paint Never Dries. And we’ve got a great look in mind for you. We’re going with “Fenella Fielding on hunger strike”. You’ll have lots of seizures on stage throughout the show. You get to throw yourself to the ground. It’s a great dramatic role. It could even be described as melodramatic.

ER: I will ave to fall over?

MG: Lots. Time and time again, but it’s not very far for you, is it? And we’ll get a very big wig for you. You’ll be top-heavy, you’ll have a job staying upright. It’ll come completely naturally.

ER: Ooo ees my co-star?

MG: David Thaxton. Good looking, good singer, very tall.

ER: But Michael, I eem teenzy-weenzee won’t eet look, ow you say a leetle exótico?

MG: Well if you were able to sit on your own shoulders you probably still wouldn’t be as tall as him but think about that famous Marg Duchess of Arg polaroid.

ER: ¿cómo

MG: Never mind. OK, look if it transfers I’ll get you Joe McElderry. Let’s face it we got you Ricky Martin for your Broadway Evita. See where I’m going with that Elena?

ER: Ees he teensy too? Ees that what you mean?

MG: And we’re planning to do it straight through without an interval. You’ll be out by 9.30. I don’t want to hear those pesky Whingers’ heels clattering down Earlham Street’s cobbles mid-show. They’ll be in a bar nice and early, that’ll keep them happy.

ER: Ooo are zeese Weengers?

MG: Never mind that, the run will sell out anyway. Think transfer. Think Evita. Think about your brilliant Piaf.

ER: Can I do my Piaf voice?

MG: Camp it up, Elena. You can do Buzz Lightyear’s Spanish mode in Toy Story 3 if you want. Are you een, sorry I mean in or out?

ER: Michael, I’m een, but I want to play zee preeety one.

MG:  Play the ugly one and I’ll let you do your Piaf voice.

ER: But won’t I have to spend hours een make-up being fitted with prosthetics to transform me into zis ugly one?

MG: No.

(long pause)

MG: You can convey your ugliness through your acting.

ER: You got a deal, Meester Grannage. I go pack my boleadoras. Goo bye. (Warbling as she hangs up:)  Non, je ne regrette rien, c’est payé, balayé, oublié, Je me fous du passé…

Rating

(this was a preview performance)

Two out of Five: slightly corked or vinegary

43 Responses to “Review – Passion, Donmar Warehouse”

  1. Lord Andrew Lloyds Slipper Sniffer Says:

    Laugh out loud brilliant.

  2. S A Says:

    I loved this show so much. I’ve booked in for a second fix. The melodies are glorious, the singing sublime. Grandage said last night that Sondheim saw it on Saturday and was deeply moved, hopefully not in the way that you boys obviously were.

  3. Simone Says:

    Hilarious as always!

    Looking forward to seeing it next month!

  4. Jo Says:

    Well. I loved the show, too, and I think the leads are fantastic, but that aside… this did make me laugh.

  5. Gareth James Says:

    Your finest hour?! Delicious!

  6. Pete Says:

    You guys make my day so often! Brilliant!

  7. Michael Says:

    Thank you guys – this made me laugh so much – maybe the dialogue needs to be set to music?? Like the mini-opera by Menotti?

    Still Im looking forward to seeing Passion – not least to see how they stage the opening scene in the small Donmar space. It was quite memorable at the Queens with the heaving buttocks

  8. Phil (a west end whinger) Says:

    Heaving buttocks? Gosh, I don’t remember them at all. Presumably they were Ball’s?


  9. I really enjoyed it. I would have enjoyed it a great deal more had I not had the misfortune to sit next to two cackling idiots who sniggered loudly through all the dramatic bits and who clearly have no manners.

    Oddly, they looked vaguely familiar. Oh, I remember. I saw them on a YouTube interview from the US where they were travelling “incognito” – which didnt stop them broadcasting to the entire world.


    • I fully admit to sniggering twice. Only someone with a heart of stone would not have been moved to laughter at some of the histrionics.

      The man standing behind us laughed far more often and more loudly.

    • Lord Andrew Lloyds Slipper Sniffer Says:

      When you are as witty and accurate I’ll pay attention. Unfortunately, I’ll probably be under the sod by then (and I don’t mean Michael Coveney.

      God bless the Whingers, long may they continue exposing humbug and pomposity.

  10. Phil (a west end whinger) Says:

    Sat next to TWO cackling idiots? So who was the idiot on the other side of you then? The girls next to us were in hysterics, we were paragons of restraint by comparison.

  11. webcowgirl Says:

    I only regret that I have tickets for this in November (still), and there’s no way I want to go see it again. Anyone who wants them, drop me a line!

    • jay Says:

      webcowgirl you can probably return them as its almost sold out.


    • Good lord, don’t listen to us! You’ll probably love it.

      • Jo Says:

        😉 I believe webcowgirl has already seen it and couldn’t care for the piece very much at all…

        Speaking of which – without wanting to take anything away from your article, which I still think is absolutely hilarious, I find that those who can’t bring themselves to like it have the biggest problems with either Elena Roger or “Passion” in general (or both). I love the play, and I really liked her performance (although to be fair it’s not the most challenging – I personally think she did a wonderful job, but Fosca IS already a tragic and fairly intriguing character to begin with), and I genuinely loved Thaxton’s performance very much. Generally, I think in terms of casting, there is absolutely nothing wrong with any role in this show, and for me, the direction, the space and the piece were great.
        Of course that doesn’t mean everyone has to like it, and I can understand why “Passion” isn’t for some, but I also know that so far, many think of it as an amazing production. It’s just very interesting how extreme the opinions have been so far.

  12. Paul Says:

    It’s a thin line between being ‘shallow and narcissistic’ and being ‘arrogant and patronising’.

    The former is quite fun if you are in the mood and makes you liked on the whole, the latter gets you only ever increasing fawning from a dwindling number of followers.

  13. Ian Shuttleworth Says:

    To Oscar Wilde, posing as a Sondheimite.

  14. Michael Says:

    Well Mr A and Mr P
    You’ve surpassed yourselves – I laughed until I cried and my contact lenses floated out.
    However, that you think Passion tuneless is like thinking Argentina is
    is beefless (and boy, is there some beef in Argentina, 2 and 4 legged).
    Thanks to a brilliant friend, I shall be seeing the show twice for the tunes and the spectacularly brilliant Miss Roger -so put that in your pampas grass and smoke it…

  15. Margarita Says:

    My fourth time seeing Passion (five if I include a recording session for the Original London Production) and The Donmar was by far the most moving glorious experience. I’m genuinly baffled by anybody who finds the score lacking in melody – it requires familiarity, unless someone can’t follow anything more complex than Surrey With The Fringe On Top. The rude review was hilarious but, as any kind of sensible response to a brilliant and deeply satisfying theatrical experience, insensitive nonsense.

  16. Lee W Says:

    Not very funny at all chaps… I was looking forward to having a chuckle at your comments on the show but it seems you went for some wine addled rant that seems little to do with the performance on stage.

    Hell I was expecting you to at least mention that the soldiers don’t seem to be able to enter or leave a room without carrying at least a chair or preferably one side of a table.

    Personally I absolutely loved the production and thought that Elena Roger gives an incredible performance.


  17. [message deleted due to contravention of new rules on tediousness]

  18. Gareth James Says:

    Michael Coveney has just come out as a two star Passion man too. Will you ever live this down. Oh, the shame!

  19. Dickie and Butch Says:

    Can I suggest perhaps in future writing one review which is solely for comic effect, and one which actually critiques the performance and the production? What were the sets like? What were the highlights/lowlights? You used to combine the two aspects beautifully, but sadly I am neither enlightened or amused by this one.

    Elena Roger is just about the finest musical theatre actress we have (in London); exceptional in Evita, hilarious in Boeing-Boeing and one of the easiest Oliver winners the judges have ever had to pick as Piaf. All you’ve said in your review is that she is ugly and has a strong accent.

    We’re keeping the faith boys and remain fans, but can you please start writing proper reviews again?

  20. David Says:

    Improper reviews for me too, please. There are more than enough ‘proper’ reviews and the above gives an impression – a very strong impression – of what the Whingers thought of the show.

  21. Mutha Superior Says:

    You don’t read the Whingers for po-faced insight into what’s on stage. Anyway, I”m going in November and I’m still looking forward to it a great deal.

  22. Lord Andrew Lloyds Slipper Sniffer Says:

    Open letter to ‘Not the West End Whingers’: Pots/kettles?


  23. […] this (last para, below the long synopsis and cast list), this sort of personal attack should stop. This isn’t critical debate. This is just unpleasant, and it doesn’t benefit anyone. This is […]

  24. Choreokino Says:

    I think we would all benefit from even a cursory reading of GB Shaw’s Plays and Players before we worry re personal comments about actors – they stick themselves both up and out there for criticism and if their teeny tiny fragile egos can’t take the heat, then perhaps an avoidance of the kitchen….?

    No, more to the point, the Whingers seem to have entirely missed the trick that this Passion has been so evidently written by a man who not only hates women , but manages to make them menacing, predatory, fickle, faithless, ugly, conniving and manipulative – and THAT’s only the ones he writes benignly – I believe that at 80, Sr Sondheim is still keen on writing new things, and revisitng refreshed versions of his previous work, however,rather like Dame Andrew Lloyds-Banker
    who will not feel fully creatively vindicated until one of his dreadful ditties has been adopted as one of the Enguurlannd World Cup choons, Sondheim seems to have been caught on the wheel of his own destruction and simply allows more and more of his shows to be restaged, rehashed and EVER more mintily reheated for the vicarious titillation of the white middle class daily mail readers of Outer Suburbia – never more aptly have musicals been described as windy exercises in unearned emotion for the spiritually vacuous.

  25. JuanitoZorro Says:

    ‘Passion’s is beyond redemption: as we say in Argentina, usted no puede pulir una cagada.

  26. Sue Says:

    I look forward to this production, having seen 2 very different interpretations. The first was an out and out melodrama. The second gave Fosca the opportunity to be both profound, but funny. It had never occurred to me that many of Fosca’s spoken lines are both self deprecating and funny.
    Having listened to the OBC recording (without spoken dialogue), I missed the fact that Fosca might have a sense of humour. I look forward to, perhaps, the most intense and dark version of this piece. Mainly, I anticipate the beautiful music. I was very sorry to hear about the serious accident befalling the Colonel. Come on, Donmar Cast, you can deliver, whatever the odds.

  27. TooCloseToTheTable Says:

    Saw this today. Nobody shot themselves in the face. Phew!

  28. Annacol Says:

    This is most probably the only funniest thing on your site. More like this pleaaaaaaase


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