Kay Mellor is probably best known for her successful TV shows, such as Band of Gold, Fat Friends and Playing The Field. However, in 1992 she also wrote A Passionate Woman for the stage (also turned into a TV show in 2010 starring Billie Piper and Sue Johnston). This revival was meant to appear in Sheffield a couple of years ago, but the lead actress Lynda Bellingham tragically died of cancer before production got off the ground.
Now it’s on tour, with Liza Goddard in the role of Betty. It’s a play that blends both comedy and drama, and sometimes it struggles to find the right tone. It’s certainly gentle humour, with Goddard often addressing the audience and telling them wry, witty details about her life. The play is set in the attic of Betty’s family home, on the day her only son gets married. It’s a bittersweet day for Betty, as we learn that she’s not entirely happy in her marriage, and sees her son as the only good thing that’s ever come out of it – therefore, she can’t bear to see him move on.
So, it’s a play about lost love, regret, missed chances and whether you should settle for second best rather than be alone. Yet to stop it becoming too depressing, there’s moments of broad humour, and there’s also a device which some people may find endearing and others may find infuriating. If you don’t want to know, look away now, as some spoilers will follow.
We discover that Betty is still pining for her lover with whom she had an affair with in the ’70s. This lover, a Polish neighbour called Craze appears as a ghost (only seen by Betty) and they discuss their time together. Sometimes it’s unclear whether this ghost is calling Betty over to the ‘other side’ or whether it’s just a device to make her leave her rather hapless husband Donald.
The second half is just half an hour long, and seems to wrap everything up rather too quickly to be honest – it’s as if Mellor wasn’t entirely sure how to end proceedings and so goes for the slightly surreal. Yet it’s a solid family comedy-drama, with a decent cast (Anthony Eden is particularly good as Betty’s exasperated son Mark) and fans of Alan Ayckbourn and Alan Bennett will certainly enjoy the well observed lines about disaffected family life.
A Passionate Woman is at Sheffield Lyceum until 4 March, then touring until 8 April. For dates, refer to http://www.uktw.co.uk/Tour/Play/A-Passionate-Woman/T1174216364/