The idea behind Claire Henderson Davis’s performance piece is fascinating. Re-interpreting the story of the Passion using music, dance and Malcolm Guite’s sonnets, Passion is performed in three different areas of St Mary’s Cathedral, the audience following the performers in a kind of procession.
A liturgical event, Passion charges no entry fee, and buckets at the end are proffered gently rather than insistently. In theory, it is the perfect antidote to a comedy-saturated Fringe. However in practice, Passion is overly self-conscious, containing several jarring elements.
The performance is structured around Guite’s poems, read by the poet himself. Their relation to the choreography is sometimes unclear, and some contemporary references—for example, ‘ground zero’—appear contrived. Saxophone and oboe echo beautifully within the space, but an amplified guitar seems like a misguided attempt to establish the contemporary credentials of the piece. Similarly, while it is understandable that a re-interpretation is keen to avoid the nativity-style costumes of old, the outfits are so strange as to be genuinely distracting: a shiny business suit; a sequin-hemmed dress paired with wellington boots.
What can be praised is the innovative staging; the movement between locations, led by several performers who sit amongst the audience, creates a reverential atmosphere. The Cathedral setting, stunning and sombre, is perfect, and a silent ending is a high point, conveying yet denying closure. The choreography has nice moments of stillness, though a scene with nudity seems designed only for shock value, as does a kiss between the dancers.
To criticise Passion as a performance piece, is not to deny its potential religious impact; a few members of the audience appear very moved. However, the promise suggested by Passion’s premise remains unrealised.