BASH

Wed 9th – Sat 12th November 2011

reviews

Felicity Sturge

at 22:59 on 9th Nov 2011

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As darkness crept over the audience a stark, interrogatory light illuminated the stage of the Black Box Theatre, where we would soon bear witness to the characters, alone, exposed and vulnerable, confessing to an unnamed and unseen listener. In BASH, by Neil Labute and presented by ‘Greenlight Productions’, we hear three detailed stories from characters who, despite their frequent proclamations to the contrary, are desperate to retell their tales, whether it be to release a guilty conscience, make a social point, or under force of the law having been apprehended by the police.

In every story the protagonist is guilty of murder, but Labute’s intelligent writing makes the audience focus not on the murder itself, but look more acutely at the character and situation in which the awful deeds are done. The actors were tremendous vocally and their words were lyrical and mesmerising, transporting the audience to the scene playing inside each character’s head, something they have each relived an infinite number of times in their quest for absolution or, at the very least, as they came to terms with what they have done. We can relate to replaying crucial moments in our lives and the futile longing to change a single moment and its inevitable consequences. This allows us to sympathise with the characters simply for being, as one of them frequently reminds us we are, “mortal”.

The play brings up many social issues such as sexism and child abuse, but the most striking message came from the second story “A Gaggle of Saints”, in which the male character (adeptly played by Alex Woolf) transformed before our eyes from a love-struck, innocent teen entertaining his girlfriend on their anniversary, into a violent thug who beats a man to death. The gruesome story is set against the electric mood of Fitzgerald’s “The great Gatsby”, and Woolf allows the character to romanticize his killing of a stranger with passion and relish, whilst the audience sit in shock and disgust at such a display of homophobia.

The whole piece is linked throughout by video clips with a strong Christian message which contrasts neatly with the flawed and troubled characters. Projected onto the pleated fabric backdrop of the theatre the images of smiling, singing faces were suitably distorted to enhance the irony of showing such a Mormon message amongst the horrors of the tormented figures on stage. The use of these obvious religious references also contrasted the underlying mythic element to the play, as there are allusions within the plots, and directly within dialogue, to Greek legends and storytellers such as Euripides. The effect is examining the disconcerting mix of the roles that spiritual, social, and supernatural forces play in our lives.

BASH is one to think about and discuss upon leaving the confessionary room of the theatre, and I find myself replaying the episodes in a similar fashion to the characters, wondering uselessly if events could have been changed in any way, or whether fate is indeed a stronger force than mortals can bend...

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Pia Dhaliwal

at 01:52 on 10th Nov 2011

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If I had to sum up Bash in a word, that word would be – dark. It’s a dark show. Like, a really dark show. This manifests itself in a variety of ways, from the subject matter to the lighting to the eerie juxtaposition of cheery Mormon videos against aforementioned subject matter and lighting.

Yet that very darkness is both dealt with and beautifully counterbalanced by some quality acting and direction. The play is split into three segments, each featuring a character or characters – all practicing Mormons – speaking directly to the audience. In the first, a man relates the death of his infant daughter; in the second, a young couple describe the dark events of a weekend trip to New York City; in the third, a woman recounts her relationship with her junior high school teacher and the unfortunate consequences. All three stories are brutally tragic – their characters are highly disturbed and their effect, accordingly, is highly disturbing; deliberately yet delicately reminiscent of Greek tragedy (as subtly indicated by the title of each segment: iphigenia in orem, a gaggle of saints, and medea redux).

Of course, the subject matter of the play wouldn’t have been nearly so compelling had it not been for some truly excellent acting, with strong individual performances making for a collectively well-executed show. Both Adam Farrell (iphigenia in orem) and Katie Sherrard (medea redux) handled their respective monologues skilfully – the latter with well-timed intensity; the former with a quiet energy that slowly but steadily set the tone for the show. Alex Woolf and Polly Edsell (a gaggle of saints) were a pleasure to witness; their delivery slick and well-paced despite their characters never addressing each other directly. In a cast of strong performers, Woolf’s confident portrayal of a young WASP-y East Coast college student particularly stood out as simultaneously commanding and engaging.

Credit should also go to director Sadie Spencer for enhancing the overall feel of the play with minimalist stage settings, mood-appropriate lighting, low prop use, and minimal movement on the part of the actors. In a suitably ironic move, each segment of the show was interspersed with the videos mentioned earlier – all of which depicted devout Mormon practitioners happily embracing their faith in some form. The resulting contrast was jarring, particularly between the video that opened the show and the eventual deconstruction thereof by the first monologue. Ultimately, this discrepancy served to heighten the sordid revelations of the characters – made all the more intimate by the small theatre space and the direct narration.

All in all, the mood is expertly and subtly set for a darkly intense evening. This is not a play meant for a light-hearted night out, but if you’re looking for something sinister, gripping, well-paced and thrilling, then you’ll definitely get your money’s worth.

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