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Passion Play pre-show debate addresses infidelity, deception, and rebuilding trust

9 June 2013 00:32

Themes at the heart of Passion Play - including infidelity, deception, and rebuilding trust - were explored during a pre-show debate on Wednesday 5 June.  The debate posed a particularly thorny question: 'Is adultery ever justifiable?' 

To answer that question, several prominent writers and relationship experts gathered at the Duke of York's Theatre.  This panel, chaired by Suzy Greaves from Psychologies magazine, included:

- Lucy Cavendish, writer and journalist
- Prof Cary Cooper CBE, President of Relate
- Lucy Kellaway, Financial Times
- Lucy Mangan, Guardian and Stylist magazine
- Ruth Sutherland, CEO of Relate
- Emma Wall, Telegraph 'Wonder Women'

As the debate began, Cary Cooper immediately provoked a strong reaction from the other speakers, when he argued that the pressures of modern life make it 'really, really tough to be monogamous'. 

Lucy Mangan responded to this view by asserting that monogamy is relevant to relationships today, because it is 'a mark of civilisation'. 

While conceding that always being faithful to your partner may not be a realistic goal for everyone, Lucy Kellaway found the middle ground in the debate.  She suggested that monogamy is still worth striving for, because marriages should be 'built on trust'.

This led the panel to consider what happens to a couple when that trust is broken as the result of an affair - precisely the situation faced by Passion Play's protagonists, Eleanor and James.  How tolerant should you be if your partner is unfaithful?

Affairs are the most common reason why people seek advice from relationship support charity Relate, as Ruth Sutherland noted.  She added that adultery is 'hugely damaging' to relationships, just as Eleanor and James discover when the latter's affair with their younger friend is revealed.  Moreover, Emma Wall pointed out that the long-term emotional impact of betrayal can be more damaging than the initial shock of realising that your partner has been unfaithful.  This suggestion is arguably borne out by the play, which charts the effects of adultery over a considerable period.

With the consequences of James' affair in mind, Kellaway argued that Passion Play could be interpreted as an argument for hiding the truth from your partner, if you have been unfaithful.  Keeping your partner in the dark in this respect is a view supported by Eleanor at her angriest, but James expresses a contrasting opinion.

With regards to recovering from crises such as affairs, Sutherland argued that couples must reinvent their relationships and change their behaviour.  As a result, you may feel as if you 'marry four or five people' during the course of your marriage.  This observation will undoubtedly strike a chord with anyone who has watched Eleanor's and James' inner and outer selves at war.

While there is no magic formula for sustaining relationships, Sutherland advised that even 'small kindnesses', such as making cups of tea for your partner, are crucial to showing that you appreciate him or her on a day-to-day basis.

In addition, the panel members stressed the importance of effective communication in a successful relationship.  They noted that the alter-egos express Eleanor's and James' true feelings, while the outer selves struggle to convey their views.  Have Eleanor and James ever communicated effectively with one another? 

Whether or not the difficulty of speaking openly and honestly is partly to blame for the problems faced by the couple at the centre of Passion Play, the debate certainly left the audience with plenty of food for thought as the evening's performance began.

Passion Play's official website features an overview of the debate.  You can find other responses to the wide-ranging discussion on Twitter, using the hashtag #passiondebate.

Updated 11 June: You can now listen to a recording of the debate via Passion Play's official website.

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