Review: The Passion

Two former flames and one gas lighter illuminate power dynamics in sexual relationships


*TW: The Passion contains in-depth discussion of sexual assault, child abuse and mentions of homophobia, as well as strong language throughout*

The Passion is a play written by Cambridge student Ethan Hemmati and directed by Cassia Thakkar. It was originally performed at the Corpus Playroom in May of 2021 to critical acclaim – including a 4/5 review from Varsity – and is now making its debut on the London stage at the White Bear Theatre.

Set in a student flat in Cambridge, the play follows a conversation between two former lovers – Dan and Tony – who uncover an unsettling truth about their relationship, revealing a storyline rich with themes of sexual assault and troubling class dynamics.

Promotional poster for 'The Passion' shows the portrait of Dan and Tony in an abstract painting style which looks like two flames

Poster by Clara Lattimer Walter

Tony is the classic Cambridge student stereotype, who will spit on you if you say so much as “let me check what’s reduced” in Mainsburys: privileged and pretentious, he’s an all-round dislikeable character.

Tony chastises Dan for his less privileged background and suggests that he only achieved his Cambridge place out of pity. I found myself wishing Dan wouldn’t put up with this ill-treatment – as an audience member, I was just a fly on the wall in this scenario, yet I still found myself having to hold myself back from rugby tackling him to the ground.

Tony drives the conversation throughout and confidently takes up space as Dan folds into himself in the corner. However, as the truth begins to unravel, the power dynamic shifts.

Tony and Dan sat a table having a heated conversation

Image credits: Cassia Thakkar

Despite this, I left feeling heavy. What is discussed in the room will ultimately stay there, for privilege protects those from facing the consequences of their actions. Whilst this conclusion may well be realistic, it’s not the conclusion I wanted for Dan and for the class struggle.

There were countless moments where my mouth dropped and my eyes sprung from their sockets. I was surprised by how many revelations could be woven into one conversation between two people. Normally, I’m quite good at pre-empting plot twists, but time and time again I failed to while watching this play, which may be partially the result of the fact that the two characters are also working out what happened over the course of the play. There is an ongoing dance between what’s true and what’s false until the very last second. 

While witnessing this conversation, I wasn’t entirely convinced that it was a realistic one. Initially, Dan’s character spoke very poetically, and although one part of me wanted to commend him for sounding like Shakespeare, the other half couldn’t help but remember that this is not how people speak in their day-to-day conversations – especially when they’re feeling anxious and emotional. Perhaps Dan found that speaking in analogies allowed him to distance himself from the truth.

Any sense of realism is removed once more when Dan breaks the third wall at the end of the play by asking the audience a question. This snaps the audience back into reality, reminding them that Dan and Tony are just two characters and this is just a story. That said, I can’t help but think that I’d have rather left the theatre still delusional.

The Passion engages with difficult issues of class and power against the backdrop of Cambridge: a place synonymous with class privilege. It’s a difficult terrain to navigate and I’m not convinced that The Passion successfully walked the entire mile.

3/5

The Passion is being performed at the White Bear Theatre in London from the 12th until the 16th of April. Tickets can be purchased here.

Feature image credits: Clara Lattimer Walter