If ever there was a trio of desperate and tragic stories to turn the stomach, prick the conscience and affect the assemble crowd Bash, Neil LaBute’s Latterday Plays are such a three! When the crowd gathered at Epidaurus to witness the retelling of some tragic event they we led by mythical belief and divine ordination. The plays of the Greek tragedy sat in the minds like the medieval bible-teaching; lessons in life and a guide to morality.
How very odd and how little we have learned when confronted with three modern day tales of greed, jealousy and want, and revenge do we see that after a few thousand years the human race and its condition still has the ability to do the most awful things to others.
And it is the human condition LaBute explores in modern day versions of Iphigenia in Orem, A Gaggle of Saints and Medea Redux. Each story, within this trio of tragedy, show a side of humanity that is left to the darkest of thoughts and the most violent of actions.
So how can this be a night at the theatre? Well it absolutely can. With the brilliant and beautifully observed writing of LaBute with an eye for the finest details, Bash is a-wash with clever and funny twists and turns that offer relief and suspend you in a false sense of security. How clever when each off stage victim is suspended with a level of trust or comfort before the final blow – ironic? I think not.
It would tell too much and space does not allow detail on each play-let – but, suffice to say they are extraordinarily real and resonant; particularly as designer Rob Howell makes the not too subtle point of whom the play is a reflection of, with a huge mirror facing the audience.
In turn, Tamara Harvey’s simple, firm and ultimately beautiful direction creates three vignettes of extraordinary power. David Sturzaker as the latter day father of Iphigenia is so crazed by position that he will sacrifice his own daughter – compelling and provoking with a snatch of devil in a disturbingly controlled performance. Harry Lloyd and Jodie Whittaker give the middle class American prep pair a sense of selfish egocentric pompousness as they weave from one insignificant personal event to another in their self-contained and morally destructive lives. There are no redeeming factors about this pair and it is they who should be beaten in a toilet not the ‘rabbit in the snare’. Loathsome people created with brilliance as Lloyd and Whittaker relish in the ‘badness and selfishness’ of there characters. Finally, Juliet Rylance tells the tale that physically pulls on the heart and touches the sole. The mother and son – the tale of Medea. Rylance is mesmerising as the haunted sole left in the living nightmare of lost youth, lost love, revenge and murder. The wringing of the cardigan sleeve conveyed a pain in the heart of this childless mother that just kept getting tighter and more painful. A desperate performance enacted with such skill left me feeling exhausted.
Bash is not for the faint hearted, but it is for all of us who are of an age to sit and face society’s demons. The weaving of word-play and light humour with subtle comedy and a nod to the smiling muse allows the play, in its entirety, to be digested and ruminated over. In the end we are left with a sense of total theatrical satisfaction peppered with a desperate acceptance that the human race is not there yet in its humanity!
In all senses, this modern day ‘trio of tragedy’ is a must see.
Gene David Kirk