Teetering on the brink of closure, the Bridewell has just happily been pulled back from the precipice, its immediate future assured, thanks to funding provided by the Corporation of London in conjunction with the Arts Council. For a venue ardently dedicated to the future of musical theatre, it seems very appropriate that its current offering is Stephen Sondheim's aptly titled and bittersweet Passion, chosen to celebrate the theatre's 10th anniversary. Passion was first seen in the West End in 1996 starring Maria Friedman and Michael Ball and is unusual amongst the Sondheim canon in entirely dispensing with ambivalence, its subject uncompromising and all-encompassing love as embodied by the show's unlikely heroine, Fosca.
Based upon an obscure Italian film, it tells the tale of Giorgio ( Mark Carroll) a nineteenth century army officer who's first glimpsed entwined (quite literally) in a affair with a young married woman, Clara ( an impressive Kate Arneil). Swiftly posted far away he is rapidly engulfed by the passionate feeling he inspires in Fosca (Clare Burt), the cousin of his superior officer. Small and shrivelled from debilitating illness, Fosca is a far cry from the typical heroine, flouting convention with insouciance, her commitment to Giorgio complete and uninhibited. This is a love 'that, like a knife/ Has cut into a life,' and though initially repelled, the strength of her unwavering devotion gradually makes Giorgio reassess his notion of true love.
What distinguishes Passion is its seamless blend of text and music, here well orchestrated by director Carol Metcalfe. There aren't any songs you can easily lift- with the possible exception of Loving You- rather, the score is a sensual symphony that ebbs and flows, reflecting the story's powerful tide of emotion.
Whilst not possessing the vocal intensity that made Friedman's such a compelling performance, Clare Burt is a strong and persuasive Fosca but opposite her Mark Carroll is disappointing, possessing insufficient presence to make his role dramatically credible. More successful is the supporting chorus of young soldiers who form a melodic counterpoint to the unfolding drama well staged on Carrie Southall's intimate set. Passion at full tilt is a glorious musical, but though this is a good rather than great production, it's still thoroughly entertaining.