A heteronormative upbringing fights homosexual desire on a battleground that moves from a playful and sometimes argumentative bedroom to the secluded cell of a conversion therapy unit. That's the setting for Passion, an outstanding debut play written and performed by Nadav Burstein (Jude) and Tom Dalrymple (Josh); another feather in the cap of the The Lion & Unicorn Theatre, Kentish Town that continues its work of pioneering new writing and supporting young theatre-makers.
An outstanding debut play... a testament to their remarkable talent and creativity
The lads graduated from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire in 2022 and formed Floating Shed theatre company. Passion was shown as a work-in-progress and is now presented as a completed work, though the experience of a week’s run will almost certainly invite some tweaking, as it would for all playwrights.
There are many fine features in Passion, which is sensitively directed with clarity of purpose by Frances Gillard. The story is simple and the text sparse, inviting measured delivery and allowing time for reflection upon the situations and for the tensions to permeate the air. Josh is clear about a his feelings for Jude; he just wishes Jude were in the same position of being comfortable with his sexuality so that he could reciprocate. It’s not that Jude isn’t crazy about Josh, but he struggles under the influence of his Orthodox Christian father and years of conservative Christian teaching from the Church, both of which are deeply embedded within him. His mind is wrapped in a blanket of sin and guilt. When his father discovers his son’s orientation Jude is sent on a course of conversion therapy.
Events run in parallel. Dazzling white light fills the stage for scenes where Jude is under what sounds like interrogation and psychological pressure from a torturing Voice of God. That is life in the conversion centre. These alternate with interactions between the two boys, who are still at school, with many lit in moody dim lights, verging on darkness as they delve into exploratory dialogue and discuss their feelings for each other. Here they create a tentative and often slightly strained atmosphere, not knowing where there words will lead. When it all might be getting a bit much for them they cleverly break the tension for themselpves and us with a burst of Donna Summer disco fever. ‘Ooh it's so good, it's so good.’
Movement sequences and physicality enhance other scenes throughout the production and lead to the denouement. Carefully chosen Biblical passages have peppered the play along with softly soothing Orthodox chants, but the ending comes in a dramatic twist which turns everything on its head, while invoking more of those scriptural verses. Be prepared to look back over what has transpired and reconsider it all.
When Burstein and Dalrymple left the Conservatoire they wanted to create a company ‘dedicated to producing original multidisciplinary work involving physical theatre with text-devising at its core’. Passion fits that brief perfectly and stands as a testament to their remarkable talent and creativity.