La Boite & Brisbane Festival
21st September – 13th October 2012
“To think of Ridley is to think of violence and beauty.” David Berthold
Let’s start at the end…the very end. The place we think we’ll never reach because it only ever happens to other couples. Doesn’t it? It’s the place that, when you get to it, doesn’t seem real and makes you think, “How did we get here? We were never going to be like this.” Violent. Erotic. Electric. Every once in a while, there comes along an exquisite piece of theatre that not only asks us to reconsider all our pre-conceived notions of theatre but also, it challenges us on so many personal levels that it makes it difficult to tell about. Easy to talk about. Difficult to tell about. Tender Napalm is that piece.
Tender Napalm is extraordinarily beautiful. In its staunch refusal to be boxed or categorised, David Berthold’s (Director) and Garry Stewart’s (Choreographer) unique take on Philip Ridley’s new play is a strange concoction of emotion, language and extreme physicality. Two fabulous multi-disciplinary performers, Kurt Phelan and Ellen Bailey, through the telling of fantasy after fantasy after high energy dance infused fantasy – and not always the XXX-Rated kind though there are several of those too – share the story of a young couple at pains after a life-changing event to work out their shared place in the world. Child-like games, tenderness, taunts and one-upmanship make this an evening of contrasts and imaginings that will challenge audiences, daring us to question the roles and responsibilities in our own relationships. On a metaphorical deserted island, in a dream state, exist the two young people, hell bent on destroying one another and at the same time taking whatever semblance of love and sex they can get from each other. From fantasy comes their ability to deal with reality without ever having to look it square in the eye. It’s the killing of dragons (or, in this case, serpents). It’s violent, sexy and completely captivating. It’s by no means a simple story (are there any simple stories?); in fact it’s reversed (the last scene, revealing the first, is my favourite) and we’re on tenterhooks for most of the 80 minutes, wondering who will be the next to make their move in order to get us (them) back to the actual beginning, the place where it all began, when two people were in love without having to suffer life’s horrific events. Ridley’s poetic language is at times as crude as it is romantic. It seemed for some on opening night that a few words rolled almost too easily off the young tongues but then, as Ridley suggests, our love languages are in need of an update and here it is, in phrases like, “I could push a bullet between your lips”. It’s strangely satisfying to see love and aggression intertwined like this…in somebody else’s imagined life. And in one kiss, suddenly we see everything. The whole relationship; the ecstasy, the tragedy, the grief, the essence of love and life and death and destruction. The whole world in an instant. In that kiss. That kiss is…everything. Within Justin Nardella’s neat set of multiple wooden surfaces there is little distraction from the action and we are able to take in Steve Toulmin’s subtle score and Daniel Anderson’s barely perceptible lighting changes as if we are part of the dream. It occurs to me, during a particularly descriptive and aggressive monologue, that this is the same vitriol, the same implosion we are witnessing, as George and Martha’s bitter destruction of each other in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. It’s hard to watch and even harder to look away. In the same way, Tender Napalm will leave you breathless and hurting and haunted. It will sear itself onto the edge of your thoughts and refuse to fade or be easily forgotten.