The Passion raises difficult questions in the post #MeToo era

Actors James Rogers and Matthew Paul bring memorable characters to lifeClara L. Walter

Content warning: discussions of trauma and sexual assault

In the intimate space of South London’s White Bear Theatre, the audience are witness to a revelatory clash between former partners Dan and Tony, students returning for another year at Cambridge. What begins as a casual conversation over cake and coffee takes a sharp turn when Dan accuses Tony of rape, and the play becomes a gripping commentary on privilege, trauma and sexual politics in queer relationships.

“A slow trickle of information leaves us waiting for the next reveal”

The Passion, written by Ethan Cyrus Hemmati, has obvious resonance in a post-#MeToo era. While the typical #MeToo story given coverage by the media has a male perpetrator and a female victim, Hemmati’s play approaches the subject of abuse within male/male relationships. It’s an assertive, well-constructed piece of writing that addresses the problems that arise when society’s definitions of ‘victim’ and ‘abuser’ fail to capture the nuances of a real relationship.

The production is tense and engagingClara L. Walter

The play is essentially a long conversation between the two, set in just one room in Tony’s Cambridge accommodation. It is kept dynamic by a slow trickle of information that has us always waiting for the next reveal. Director Cassia Thakkar and assistant director Emma Gibson keep us enlarged with a well-paced execution of the script. The play has enough changes of tone, too, with a couple of lighter, comedic moments – a variation that keeps us continually engaged with the difficult subject matter. Thakkar and Gibson utilize the strength of the actors, ramping up the intensity of their performances as the play draws towards its dramatic conclusion.

“The actors deliver striking performances”

Initially, we are introduced to characters that fit into archetypes: Tony (James Rogers) is a cocky, charming rich kid who is slightly defensive about his private education. Dan (Matthew Paul) is a quiet chemistry student from a council estate. It’s a familiar dynamic, but one that is brought to life as painful truths are revealed, and Dan and Tony transform into memorable characters with a complicated backstory.

Paul and Rogers, both Cambridge graduates, deliver striking performances. They make a strong pair, sharing the dialogue-heavy script between them. Paul plays Dan with a vulnerability that morphs into a riveting power during the play’s final act, and has us empathising with him until the end. Rogers easily carries off Tony’s sharp wit and mile-a-minute pace of speech. His execution of the character’s more emotional moments have a poignant conviction.

The piece doesn’t hesitate to push us into uncomfortable places and ask questions without easy answers. Enthralling until the end, and intense where it has to be, it’s the sort of play that has something important to say, now, and no doubt will in the future.

The Passion is playing at the White Bear Theater in Kennington, South London at 7:30pm, from Tuesday 12th April – Saturday 16th April.

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