Passion at the Lion & Unicorn Theatre

By the reverence with which Jude (Nadav Burstein) holds a book, it’s immediately evident that he takes his religious faith seriously, and the barrage of questions from a voice from on high gives the impression, soon enough confirmed by his answers, that he’s not at a religious camp entirely of his own volition. It doesn’t take long, either, to establish what terrible sin he is supposed to have committed, although the camp seems to cater for all sorts of behaviours deemed inappropriate by the evangelical church to which Jude’s family belong.

Passion at the Lion & Unicorn Theatre
Passion at the Lion & Unicorn Theatre

The methods used in the camp are of a psychological nature, and while they are manipulative, there is no evidence of forced electroshock treatments or corrective rape. Still, there’s no getting around that this is a bizarre form of therapy, rooted in fundamentalist Christianity, teaching participants how to be “freed from the LGBT lifestyle”. Joshua (Tom Dalrymple) is stunned by Jude’s explanation as to why he’s not been seen for a week, and even more taken aback by his judgemental dismissal of him, and therefore of their relationship which had been sustained for years.

The dialogue is often quite naturalistic. I had no idea what the duo were talking about on occasion, conversing in the privacy of the bedroom. That, I thought, didn’t really matter, as they were discussing things in a manner that made sense to them, making the dialogue, somewhat strangely, all the more convincing. There are also pockets of humour that permeate the script, and contemporary references remind the audience the play is, despite some outdated viewpoints being asserted, set in the present day.

Neither mobile telephony nor social media are referred to, which struck me as odd for teenagers living in this day and age. Joshua says he asked teachers at school if they knew where Jude was, absent as he was from lessons (to attend the conversion camp on his father’s instruction) – would he not have sent a message on WhatsApp or asked any mutual friends? And if nobody knew where Jude was, why did Joshua not report him as a missing person?

Anyway, some of the pair’s interactions are gloriously wordless, making use of physical theatre, body language and intimacy. Some things don’t need to be said. Some other things do, however, and while the use of biblical references is extensive, and I could grasp (in most cases) why certain verses were being quoted, they’re not always fully explained in the show, and I found myself relying on my own strict evangelical upbringing to follow what was being said.

An early disagreement over the exact meaning of Matthew 5:48 (“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect”) is a great example of where divergent religious beliefs are explored. While the production should, of course, take care not to stray too far from the focal point of conversion therapy, given its anchoring in evangelical beliefs, a few more conversations of this nature wouldn’t have gone amiss. These days, for instance, seeing someone being crucified is just as likely to call to mind ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ from Monty Python’s Life of Brian as it is Robert Powell playing the title role in Jesus of Nazareth.

The intentions behind the show are admirable, bringing to light a very disturbing practice in modern society. It’s a nuanced enough play to portray Joshua’s church as being accepting and welcoming of people irrespective of sexual orientation. The narrative could do with some tightening, but the production is nonetheless an emotionally intense experience.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Jude and Joshua have been best friends forever, but both have a secret that neither feel they can share.

When Jude’s dad catches him he is forced to confront the truth about himself and question his beliefs. Can Jude and Joshua keep their relationship, or is the truth too much and will it tear them apart?

Passion is written and performed by Tom Dalrymple & Nadav Burstein.

CONTENT ADVISORY: Contains strong language and discussions of Sexual Abuse, Violence , Death, & Homophobia

SHOW INFORMATION:
WRITTEN & PERFORMED BY: Tom Dalrymple & Nadav Burstein
DIRECTED BY: Frances Gillard
Jude – Played by Nadav Burstein
Joshua – Played by Tom Dalrymple

9th to 11th February 2023
https://www.thelionandunicorntheatre.com/

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