2015 was a victory for social justice in the Republic of Ireland, when the country became the first in the world to vote for same sex marriage in a referendum. It is in the lead up to this joyous political shift that Margaret Perry’s A Passion Play takes place. The radio play is a delightful, unlikely romance between two girls stranded in a car park in Cork, as they wait for their parents to pick them up after rehearsals for the parish production.
The story follows rebel girl Sam (Hannah Bristow) and bookish, jittery Bridie (Nicola Coghlan). Sam’s a cynic when it comes to Catholicism. She’s giving up “trying” for Lent and taunts Bridie for her commitment to sacrifice every junkfood luxury for the following month. Perry’s dialogue is effortlessly engaging. She builds their romantic tension through these lovely, bashful encounters, which is an impressive achievement when these are constructed through voice and sound alone.
It’s unusual these days in theatre to hear someone so young as Bridie with sincere Catholic opinions; yet the Republic of Ireland has one of the largest populations of young people actively practising faith in Europe. Whilst Bridie’s beliefs are somewhat traditional, her devotion is deeply personal and rooted in the present. In a particularly touching scene, she confides in Sam that she believes God exists in all things and all people. She bravely lays bare this potentially untrendy opinion as a fluttery breeze whispers through the trees in Annie May Fletcher’s naturalistic yet poetically powerful sound design.
Bridie and Sam’s romance comes into crisis when Bridie doubts the legitimacy of same sex relationships. This is a lesson she has learned from her church. Rather than villainizing Bridie for her religious beliefs, Perry creates a dialogue that seeks to better understand and unpack those opinions without alienating anyone who might hold them.
A Passion Play is a celebration of queer love that is fiercely relevant and infectiously fun. Bristow’s reckless, tomboy energy is a brilliant contrast to Sam’s endearing neuroticism, which is a joy to witness as their heated debates dissolve into flirtation. In an unexpected, enchanting moment, Bridie tries to open the tabernacle until Sam pleads that leave it and honour its sacredness. With a mutual sense of excitement and humour, they re-enact the eucharist themselves with Sam’s flying saucers sweets instead.
For Perry, faith does not have to be a fusty, untouchable rubric. It does not need to be solemnly tiptoed around, but rather a space where her characters can play, re-shape and re-interpret its practises without fear or shame. Sam and Bridie’s ordinary love story is a strategic metaphor into the divided Republic of Ireland and how closely people choose to stick to the traditions of their religion. A Passion Play beautifully humanizes a conflict playing out on a much greater scale at the time, imagining a hopeful present in which people of all identities and beliefs can co-exist.
A Passion Play is available to listen to here.