Is Ronnie Dead?
Researching the subject of out-of-body experiences, Andy Jackson observed that:
"most of the books devoted to [the silver cord] are concerned not with death itself but near-death experiences, in which the individual claims to see the silver cord connecting their physical and astral bodies, like an umbilical cord of light.
"Okay; so Ronnie states that the cord is broken, signifying death. What if, though, Ian was using this piece of symbolism in his own way? What if the Passion Play is a drama concerning an individual who isn't in fact dead?"
A very good point. It's a bit difficult to distinguish metaphor from narrative in a few parts of The Play. Taken as straight narrative, there's a definite discrepancy in between the funeral scene (i.e. Ronnie's very dead!) and the final scene, where he seems to return to his previous life (presumably not in the coffin...).
Unless it is a metaphorical funeral. Rather than around his literal grave, Ronnie's friends may be standing aligned around him, comatose in a hospital bed, thinking he's about to die. They may have arrived after he lost consciousness, so too late to speak with him, but he mightn't necessarily be dead.
One thing that might help resolve the issue is the local geography. If there's a cemetery on the Fulham Road, it's probably a real funeral, but if there's a large hospital, it might be a near-death experience in intensive care. Unfortunately, the Fulham Road features both a large cemetery and three major hospitals, so either scenario would fit.
"Think about it - after the story of the Hare, what happens? Ronnie's heartbeat begins again, played by Jeffrey on the bass, strong and steady."
My first instinct was to say 'nah; coincidence', but if the metaphor of the failing heartbeat at the beginning of The Play was intentional - and I think it was - I very much doubt the healthy heartbeat at the start of Act Three was accidental either.
The idea that Ronnie is not dead and, more importantly for the final outcome, buried, may solve one of the most significant questions (flaws?) in the narrative: where does Ronnie return to at the end of The Play. To life? How?
If his body has been six feet underground for four days, Ronnie's return to life might be rather stressful and temporary, unless he can escape.
If the line '… Roll the stone away…' is taken as an indication that Magus Perdé's magic literally breaks open the grave, allowing the restored Ronnie to climb out, then Ronnie has some serious explaining to do, to those friends who attended his interment.
The only valid option is via reincarnation (i.e. reborn, into a different body), but then he'd no longer be 'Ronnie'; he would be someone else, making the cry of 'Here am I!' nonsensical.
So, Andy's very convincing suggestion is:
"My guess is that Ronnie returns to life as himself - after undergoing a heart-stopping near-death experience, having an astral voyage through the afterlife (as he imagines it), with his pulse being jump-started again. Why doesn't he return to life at the start of side 2? Because he's curious to continue the journey, to explore. Who wouldn't be? Finally, disillusioned, he wills himself back into his physical body, and becomes, once more, a voyager into life."