Almost every scene in Margaret Perry’s short, sweet radio play is set in a church carpark. Two teenage girls wait for their lifts home from rehearsals for the local passion play. They talk about the important things: maths, hockey, tea towels, God. It’s Spring 2015, the weeks leading up to both Easter and the Irish referendum on gay marriage.
Sam (Hannah Bristow) is the new girl at school, from London. She’s keen to seem tough and rebellious, swearing explosively at her dad over the phone and in the empty church. She’s “giving up trying” for Lent. Bridie (Nicola Coughlan) is giving up “sweets, crisps, chocolate, biscuits, and fizzy drinks.” She’s gentler and a little kinder than Sam. She sees life in simpler terms; she believes in God’s presence in the world. Bristow and Coughlan’s performances are nuanced and engaging. They sound like they’re swinging their legs next to each other on a brick wall outside a parish church in Cork, when in fact both actors recorded their parts remotely.
The girls’ conversations shift in register between deadpan, teenage sarcasm and an odd, brave lyricism. At one point, Sam says that she “floated home” after scoring a great goal at a hockey match. Later, she describes “a flock of birds, so dense they look like one dark shape.” As a hardened cynic, I find this kind of talk (out loud! in presence of another person!) itchily embarrassing, and hearing it made my palms sweat a bit – but that’s because I am bitter and twisted, and Sam and Bridie aren’t. Perry gives them both a moving vulnerability. As the play follows their nascent romance, it threads a link between love and faith: how both involve the remarkable, redemptive act of trusting in something invisible.
It’s a careful and delicate production; Jessica Lazar’s direction lets the girls’ relationship unfold in the silences between dialogue. Annie May Fletcher’s sound design is simple, with the clarity of cold air. They play to the strengths of radio drama, I think – the way listening with headphones can make you feel sort of weightless, hovering somewhere in the black between the mouths of the characters.
At half an hour, A Passion Play felt a little slight, to me. It deals with big subjects at a scale that felt just a bit too small and tidy. But it’s still warm and kind and worth a listen.
Listen to A Passion Play, and other audio plays in the ‘Written on the Waves’ series, here.