Tuesday, 15 January 2013

BASH - review

Written by: Stephen St Clement

Etcetera Theatre, London

Thoroughly engaging and deeply disturbing, Neil LaBute’s collection of three short plays packs a massive punch. Three tales are told in direct address to the audience, each beginning fairly innocently before gradually revealing the darker elements of the human condition bubbling below the surface.

In Iphigenia in Orem, a young Mormon man on a business trip, played by Solomon Mousley, begins the proceedings by engaging the audience in some delightful light banter. Such is Mousley’s inoffensive charm and self-deprecating good humour, that his revelation of his baby daughter’s untimely death through his own apparent negligence draws nothing but sympathy. But LaBute’s masterful play on the passage of time reveals that the young man is not as innocent as is first supposed, and led to me feeling positively betrayed and manipulated.

The following pieces put me through a similar emotional wringer: A Gaggle of Saints features lively young Mormon couple John and Sue (Mousley and Emma Deegan respectively) describing a fun-filled trip to New York, during which John and his friends engage in a horrific act of homophobia which he describes with all the juvenile excitement of a football match; and in Medea Redux, a young woman (Deegan) is sat in an interview room, relating the story of her brief romance with a school teacher, her subsequent pregnancy, and her ultimately tragic and naïve act of retribution. Each scene has its own unique pace, tone, and level of engagement, testament to Jennifer Bakst expertly nuanced direction, and refuses to let you make up your mind about the characters before the final words are spoken.

The quality and power of the writing speaks for itself; LaBute’s uncompromisingly jet black humour and damning indictment of the hypocrisy inherent in organised religion led to his expulsion from the Mormon Church. But it is the incredible ease at which the two performers connect with both their characters and the audience that really stands out here – particularly given that Mousley had only four days to prepare after his predecessor pulled out through illness. In each play, they draw you in with an effortlessness that is truly terrifying, their eye-contact so relentless and their address so personal and direct that you are made to feel somehow complicit in their actions. I felt incensed, violated, shaken to my very core – and I bloody loved it. A triumph.

This production was part of the PNPA festival which runs throughout January. 

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