Philip Ridley’s Tender Napalm premiered in London in 2011 and is now being presented for the first time in South Australia by Scuti Productions.
The show has already started when you enter The (surprisingly warm!) Studio at Holden Street Theatres. A couple sits on the stage, intertwined and tenderly whispering to each other. It appears so intimate that I begin to hope that they are actually a couple offstage! They are dressed in a way which reminds me of a young carefree couple in the summertime. A strong, emotive piano piece plays (Moses Monro,sound and score). The set is reminiscent of the Les Miserables barricade, with various pieces of household furniture and personal belongings arranged haphazardly around the perimeter (Rachael Williams,who also directed).
The chemistry between Man (Mark Healy) and Woman (Carol Lawton) is instantly clear. They start off playful and in love. They deliver Ridley’s violently poetic words in (mostly) strong English accents, necessary for the setting of the play. As the script frenetically races, swaps, and jumps between time and scenarios, Lawton and Healy are skilful with their delivery of long, sometimes unrealistic, soliloquies filled with complicated word play and phrasing and are masterful at completely changing their emotions and mood at the click of a finger (or perhaps a mention of “the view”). The play is physical and more humorous than I expected and the characters and story much more relatable than perhaps implied by the synopsis.
The play darts between realism and fantasy. Sometimes the characters are clearly making up what they are saying is happening around them, other times it seems they are recalling a true moment from their past. There is a hint of a shared personal tragedy, which is perhaps what drove them to this bout of crazed escapism. It seems like sometimes the characters are using their fanciful settings to exorcise some real life feelings of blame, or anger toward each other, or maybe just to get out of their own heads whilst dealing with an unimaginable trauma.
Their stories at first seem completely random, but slowly through the 75 or so minutes they begin to interlace, or call back to each other, slowly building a clearer picture of who these people are, these people who initially seemed like a playful young couple playing improv, but now seem so much older and weightier. Unexpectedly the play begins to weave these completely random vignettes back together and suddenly a narrative seems to appear.
The sound is excellent, the actors are easily heard and the score and sound effects are well woven in to enhance but not overshadow the scenes. The lighting (Bob Weathely) is understated but effective and is used well to guide the audience through changing settings and emotions. I didn’t notice Lauren Taylor’s stage management which meant she was doing it well! I enjoyed the direction, but I was a bit confused by the set. It was visually good and thoughtfully created, but I believed “the wreckage” often mentioned by characters was in their heads and having the actors surrounded by wreckage seemed like an odd setting to me (unless it was a physical manifestation of a metaphor? The real life wreckage they are trying to escape from?). I think, as much as the pieces of furniture serviced the actors and physicality of the piece, I would have preferred a blank or more realistic (even outdoorsy) set, and let the stories tell the story.
If you asked me to tell you what this show is about, I couldn’t adequately explain it, but I do know that I really enjoyed it. It was well paced, well written and well delivered and the healthy preview night crowd was captivated and appreciative.
Tender Napalm is playing at 8pm Wednesday to Saturday at Holden Street Theatres from June 20 to June 29. It is recommended for Mature Audiences and runs for approximately 75 minutes. Ticket prices range from $25 – $28 and are available from www.holdenstreettheatres.com.