Tender Napalm, Southwark Playhouse, London
An explosive dose of the toughest love
Wednesday 27 April 2011
Man's idea of making love to his Woman involves an unpleasant deployment of a grenade. Sexual possession is a form of violence, perhaps, but in the playwright Philip Ridley's book, it's also a statement of ultimate affection. Tender Napalm is tough love.
If you crave a messy theatrical antidote to the revisionist nonsense surrounding the Rattigan revival, Ridley's your man. Like the even more unfashionable Howard Barker, he is profligate with words and feelings. But he is much more emotionally incontinent.
This new 85-minute duet for an unnamed Adam and Eve is a seriously wild workout on a fantasy island where they are marooned after meeting at a birthday party in Essex. If Pinter is the poet of Hackney and the Balls Pond Road, Ridley is the rogue rioter of Shoreditch and Snaresbrook.
Is this love at first night, you wonder, as the couple face each other along the bare traverse stage, the audience ranged on either side? The couple are shipwrecked. Their love is unconditional, but subjunctive: they would do this or that with a bullet or a hand grenade, they would dance naked, battle with monsters, mutilate a penis that nestles like a butter mushroom in a Brillo pad.
The tension shifts with the tenses. They have done some of these things. There have been battles with snakes, chains on rocks, a dildo shaped like a dolphin from Atlantis. There is a dispute over a child. One minute they are re-enacting the myth of Perseus and Andromeda, the next squalling bitterly like George and Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
The writing jumps and shudders with twists, riffs and dangerous games. The actors, Jack Gordon and Vinette Robinson, play a dance of desire like clubbers at a rave. You can, at late-night performances on Friday and Saturday, go straight to a nearby nightclub – the only extra charge is that of Gordon and Robinson, the rock and the roll of David Mercatali's production. They are bestial and sexy, charming and tender, allowing the piece to unravel around a first voracious sexual encounter and a lilting love song set to music by Nick Bicât. No stiff upper lips required.
To 14 May (020 7407 0234; www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk)
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