Passion Play

Definitions

Theater

  • (written as Passion play)
    A type of medieval liturgical drama depicting thePassion (sufferings) of Christ from the Last Supper to the placingof his body in the tomb. It was traditionally presented on Good Friday.The earliest Passion plays were performed in church buildings andcombined mime with readings from the Bible. Later the plays were stagedin the open air.

    The play presented at Valenciennes, France, in 1547 providesthe earliest record of stage settings for a Passion play; these includedcity gates, a temple, a dungeon, and the Mouth of Hell, with flames and moving jaws.

    The genre remained popular throughout Europe until the Reformation.In Germany the Passion play was given a second lease of life by theCatholic revival in the 16th century. The best-known German exampleis the Oberammergau Passion Play, which is still performedonce every 10 years.

  • A tragicomedy of marital life by Peter Nichols, firstperformed in London in 1981 by the Royal Shakespeare Company. WhenNichols and the director Mike Ockrent squabbled about the staging,the playwright took over the production himself. Passion Playwon the Evening Standard Award for best play of the year but,owing partly to excessive pay demands by the cast, failed to transferto the West End. Michael Grandage directed an acclaimed revival atthe Donmar Warehouse in 2000.

    In Passion Play Nichols uses the unusual device ofhaving the two main characters shadowed by alter egos who voice thetrue feelings that the characters are repressing.

    The play depicts the breakdown of James and Eleanor's marriageafter he is seduced by Kate, who is young enough to be his daughter.The couple remain outwardly civil towards each other, but their alteregos reveal their real sentiments. James convinces his wife that hehas called the affair off, but she subsequently learns that this isa lie. Thinking that it might help the situation, Kate decides tovisit the couple, with the result that she finds herself in love withEleanor as well as her husband. When Eleanor takes an overdose ofpills James nurses her back to health (although his alter ego againreveals his true feelings). Later, he meets Kate at a Christmas partyand the two make love - or is this perhaps her alterego?

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