The play centres around a couple, Catherine and Robert Harrow: she is a surgeon; he a public servant advising the Minister for Immigration. Though they appear to ‘have it all’ on the surface, their personal life is scarred by their deep sorrow at their inability to conceive. In the privacy of their bedroom they indulge in a self-destructive ritual of sadomasochistic love-making in the hope of recovering from the termination of Catherine’s first pregnancy. Enter Ali Hadji, an Iraqi refugee who cleans floors at the hospital where Catherine works and her mother, Margaret, waits to die. Ali begins a friendship with Margaret, who insists that her son-in-law is able to use his position of power to prevent Ali from being deported when his visa expires. But Robert is facing problems of his own – problems that affect people outside his and Catherine’s cloistered, self-indulgent existence.
Anthony Crowley has been ambitious in presenting us with this latest work, having directed and designed the production as well as writing it. The move proves to be very effective: his economical set design fits well into the Chapel off Chapel space and his direction reflects the kind of intrinsic understanding of the writing that only he as a playwright can hold. From his actors he extracts fine, nuanced performances that have the capacity to break hearts. Ali Ammouchi is captivating as Ali Hadji and Sue Jones plays Margaret with a perfect blend of tragedy and good humour. Danielle Carter is also very strong as the emotionally beleaguered Catherine.
But the highlight of this production comes in the form of a puppet, handled with extraordinary care by Andrew McDougall and Nathan Reardon. The use of the puppet is what takes this production from ‘just another play about suffering’ into another level of theatre, one which works aesthetically and kinetically to evoke extraordinary pathos from its audience. Heightened by Brad Picken’s film art design and Russell Goldsmith’s extraordinarily beautiful score, this element of Shadow Passion is the most moving and speaks more words even than Crowley’s eloquent script can.
Shadow Passion is self-assured and enthralling. This is the sort of work our state theatre companies should be producing – accessible work about real people and real lives. There are elements of it that are disturbing, hard to watch, and even harder to reconcile with – but it is brilliant, compelling viewing. One not to miss.
Chapel Off Chapel presents
a stunning new play from multi-award winning dramatist Anthony Crowley
Venue: Chapel off Chapel | 12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran
Dates: Wed 5 Sept – Sat 22 Sept
Previews: 5, 6 Sept 8pm
Times: Wed – Sat 8pm, Wed and Sat Matinee 2pm, Tues and Sun 6pm.
Tickets: $32.50/$22.50/Group 10+ $22.50/Preview $22.50
Bookings: 03 8290 7000