Part of 45North’s series of audio plays, Written on the Waves, Margaret Perry‘s A Passion Play takes us into Ireland, where two teenage girls experience “the fireworks of first love” against the “high drama of Christ’s crucifixion”. Bridie (Nicola Coughlan) is deeply religious, a good Catholic girl.
Sam (Hannah Bristow) has moved across from London with more to say and think for herself than her Irish schoolmates. She and Bridie are chalk and cheese, night and day. Yet they find themselves drawn to each other despite their differences.
The sound/music interludes (designed by Annie May Fletcher) are effective in marking time and highlighting feelings. There’s a kiss that we hear, but it isn’t religious, it is two growing women “tasting of sherbet”. There’s a remembered meeting in tow, where Bridie blanks Sam and tells another girl she wasn’t her friend. There’s a priest who cajoles his congregation to vote ‘no’ – or don’t come back into his church.
There is the Tabernacle, and the kiss of betrayal on Gethsemane. The weight of the words which dictate what a woman should be, and aspire to. There are no lesbians here, and precious little freedom.
For Bridie, liking another girl isn’t right. After all, she’s always wanted a big wedding and lots of children. That’s what everyone else wants, That’s what is right. Choose now, be always happy or unhappy.
As Sam makes a decision that will rock both the Passion Play and the community, words remain unsaid, until lifted in song which contravenes both pressure and covention. As the two girls blend voices in How Great Thou Art, there seems a sliver of hope.
Under Jessica Lazar’s direction, the elements of writing, sound, and performance are totally convincing. Both Bristow and Coughlan bring their characters to life so that we root for them and want them to be content in life. This is a sharply observed piece of drama making the great philosophical questions personal.
You can access A Passion Play and the other plays in the Written on the Waves series here (free to listen).
A new series launches on 27 May and continues with a new play every two weeks until August.