No set, no props, no effects except a few subtle lighting changes; just two barefoot actors and a full house.
It is shows such as these that remind us, trudging through our day to day reality, of what it is to imagine, and how easy it is, if all the elements are right, to become completely immersed in a scenario totally removed from normality—immersed enough that it makes you squirm.
The audience last night was fully immersed in this 10th anniversary in-person production of Tender Napalm, directed by Max Harrison at the King’s Head Theatre, Islington.
Trapped on a remote Island—as we are told—a Man and a Woman tell each other stories, passing time, playing much in the way children might. However, there’s an edge to these games. An undercurrent of pain runs through most, of resentment on the part of the Woman and of hope and disappointment on the part of the Man. What do they reflect of us?
Adeline Waby’s Woman is strong, determined and passionate, delivering a well-rounded, multi-layered performance that draws empathy from the audience.
Jaz Hutchins’ Man is exuberant, courageous and excitable, giving an extremely physical performance. Working with perhaps less opportunity to explore emotionality, Hutchins’ still manages to bring depth to the character.
In their games, he’s King of the Island, fighting sea monsters with an army of monkeys, while she’s an elemental Queen resolved to making him submit. It might seem, ten minutes in that this will be a play with no particular story, but in the midst of their narrative, snatches of a former—or maybe future—life break through. A party, the pair as teenagers, then living together, perhaps having a child?
The opening line: ‘I could squeeze a bullet between those lips’ is jarring in its aggression, sensuality and violence. This is something that continues the whole way through, right to the end. Quite typical of playwright Philip Ridley, the play’s dialogue ricochets back and forth—by the time the audience has caught up with who has control of the story, the baton has been passed again, snatched away or tossed into the distance with soft ‘have you seen the view?’
The actors throw every drop of energy into their performance; one that uses movement well to bring the vivid script to life. Still, with the energetic intonation of Adeline Waby and Jaz Hutchins, it could be possible to listen just to the rich dialogue and still be transported to their Island. Vernacular such as ‘digging a hole in a sky made of meat’—rich to the point of retching in some cases, certainly keep the audience captivated. This is made all the more intense in the small, intimate venue of the famous King’s Head.
Playing until the 20th November https://kingsheadtheatre.com/whats-on/tender-napalm
Reviewer: Natalie Romero
Reviewed: 26th October 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★