A new aesthetic is illuminated as "Tender Napalm" ignites.
Approaching La Boite latest offering; an incarnation of the new Philip Ridley play "Tender Napalm" is not an easy task. What I saw last night at The Roundhouse, the home of new, exciting and relevant drama in Brisbane challenged my definitions and conceptions of theatre, of narrative and storytelling and of language itself. And yet I feel that "Tender Napalm" is emblematic of La Boite itself and the direction it has taken in recent years. I feel this latest masterpiece to be orchestrated is a tome and testament of La Boite itself. Vivid, passionate, difficult to understand or to pigeonhole into a genre but easy to love and appreciate. Full of intellect, sensuality, compassion, grace, poise, professionalism, wit, humor, insight and a relentless joie d'verve that I feel encapsulates, defines and drives the engine of La Boite. So is the company and so is this play. It is nothing less than the living incarnation of La Boite's theatrical aestheic and artistic direction, it is nothing less than an unbridled celebration and homage to everything La Boite stands for and does so well, it is nothing less than a masterstroke, a brilliant, difficult and beautiful signature of unquestionable and towering talent from the hot-bed of Brisbane's most exciting theatre creators.
This play deserves a book to be written about it. It deserves to be discussed in drama classrooms, in conferences and in cafes. It warrants scholarly attention and screams to be discussed in our water cooler conversations. It defies any attempt to quantify it. The play seems to take on a whole life of its own in the riveting eighty or so minutes as it unfolds on stage. A couple, who are faced with an immense and life-shattering loss and grief, charged by their own demons, begin to traverse a narrative and physical journey through their own psyche, their own purgatory. There has been some cataclysm, some event so horrendous and so explosive it has fractured reality itself and created a liminal space- without time and without dimension for this couple to dance, dream, sing and storytell themselves back to some semblance of humanity and togetherness. The play pushes the English language to its absolute limits and back again as the words, recognizable as our own, are twisted and crafted over and over again so irrevocably and masterfully reshaped that it is almost as if a new language is born. I place this play alongside texts like "Naked Lunch" and "A Clockwork Orange" for what the writer has succeeded to do with language that creates itself and becomes alive.
To add to this, the text has become physical. Stories are spoken with body as much as with words. Internationally acclaimed dance choreographer Gary Stewart teams up with theatrical maestro David Berthold to create a stunning piece that blurs and bends the spoken word, the written text and the movements in space and time. The play is very much alive and after the masterful midwifery of two of the greatest directorial minds working in Australia today, it is literally born in front of us on stage in all of the overwhelming beauty and stark terror that new life often holds. This is an incredible creative achievement, to create a performance that lives and breathes a whole life of its own.
For me, the play is about the human psyche, a liminal space without time or dimension that has been created for this couple in the face of an unspeakably horrible occurrence and yet, conversely, the boundless possibilities and ecstasy of their first encounter. Both the beginning and the end of their relationship occurs in the same spacetime and their entire universe, their sense of reality and of being is collapsed, deconstructed, explored and reconstructed with language, movement and fantasy. The play is a purgatory and atonement of mistakes made and transgressions committed in their affair and it is also a celebration of the love, intimacy, desire and longing of two souls who are lost in a world of their own imaginings. It is a terrific and terrifying play. About relatedness more than sexuality, about longing more than love and about the soul and its secrets more than emotional or character drama. It is a tour de force verging circus of story, symbol and sensuality, sometimes very funny and sometimes very cruel. A whole and very private world is cracked open for us to peer inside to marvel at. Berthold and Stewart are to be praised for what they have created and breathed life into here. A stunning and remarkable achievement.
Adding more notes to this already outstanding accomplishment is the savvy and smart design team of La Boite, particularly the set designer Justin Nardella for his accomplished and understated feel to this mobile and moving show. The light and sound under the leadership of Daniel Anderson and Steve Toulmin is nothing less than superb, subtle and brilliant they capture and highlight the beauty of this complex and difficult piece.
Assembled to speak and to move this story into being are two of the finest and most exciting actors I have seen upon The Roundhouse floor to date. Kurt Phelan is boyish, captivating, handsome, charming, a gifted storyteller, instantly likeable and riveting when he gets in full flight. He has balanced manhood and boyhood extraordinarly well and he brings a believable and palatable masculine energy to the show as an almost Peter Pan character, caught in a limbo between childish imaginings and the adult world.
Arriving to her debut performance and what a stunning exhibition of brilliance it was, is Ellen Bailey. She is superb, controlled, graceful, visually perfect for the role and physically dynamic. Dangerous, wicked, feminine and yet feminist too, she is an encapsulation of an urban, modern woman. Sexually awakened, with some very funny vitriol yet full of tendernesss and grace this is a marvelous outing for Ellen Bailey who has set the Roundhouse on fire with her stunning and captivating performance.
This is an incredible feat of imagining. A play that harkens a new aesthetic, a new symbolism in the twenty first century theatrical landscape. Language is the player here, not so much character drama. The world is not that of the past, nor of the future, nor of any particular time at all. It is not a play that is concerned with political intrigues, nor is it relationship drama. This is a theatrical work that examines humanity itself, people and how they relate to themselves, eachother and the world around them. It is a peek into how we remember and understand our lives as stories, as complex and interweaving narratives. It is a peek inside the fracture that occurs in time both when something wonderful occurs and something terrible occurs. It is about the limitless possibilities of our imagination and of our language to express both beauty and terror, both love and violence - in the same sentence.
It is an encapsulation and testament to all that La Boite is and La Boite stands for. It is the song that is the sound of La Boite theatre company, the painting that expresses it best, it is a living and incarnate example of what this theatre company is and what they are achieving in Brisbane. Liminal, timeless, superb, sensual, intelligent, graceful, sometimes funny, sometimes brutal, always brilliant- this play ignites us from the spark that is the Roundhouse. It dances with us, plays with us and draws us into itself. It is La Boite's crowning achievement of 2012. It is La Boite itself- realized in theatrical form, breathed to life and then imparted on us as all good stories are; to be shared.
"Tender Napalm" shows until the 13th of October. For tickets see http://www.laboite.com.au/01_cms/details.asp?ID=698