Hope Theatre, London – until 22 August 2015
With much in the way of 90’s revivals and a quantifiable number of in-yer-face productions hitting London’s theatre scene this year, the resurrection of Anthony Neilson’s Penetrator at the Hope Theatre is nothing if not timely. Phil Croft directs a sharply comical and ultimately scary production of this grotesque and brutally honest play. Max and Alan are unemployed twentysomething friends, home-alone, wasting away the hours watching porn and re-inventing, with ingenious wit, songs from their past to re-live the moment in which their lives had seemingly more purpose and direction. And then there’s Tadge, the other guy. A dark and intensely weird guy who brings with him a totally different atmosphere and shifts the dynamic of the play.
Tom Manning’s Tadge captures an edge of psychosis and raw, unadulterated truth with a finesse that is genuinely frightening and ultimately very saddening to behold. Set up as an outsider from the outset. Alex Pardey’s characterisation of the slobbish, Max, is an uncomfortably familiar reflection of today’s middle class, sustained-by-parents graduate, possessed of a gift for comic timing as cutting and enjoyable as a young Ricky Gervais. There is a contrast with the sweet, house proud demeanour of Alan portrayed charmingly by Jolyon Price as a gentle, caring, embodiment of the innocence of the play, with his juvenile obsession for his teddy bears, which get repeatedly abused, much to his discomfort. Ironically, given how the play unfolds, Alan’s virtue along with that of the teddy bears, is one of the most successfully played motifs in this production.
When Tadge arrives, having escaped a murky military past, at this harmless Hackney Hipster home, the tension is palpable. Each character’s past is carefully un-earthed to reveal hidden truths about their childhood friendships that none of the boys were expecting to face. This rejuvenated revival however littered with uneasy eruptions of laughter, nerf guns and childhood cartoon duvets, has a viciousness that evokes the feral nature of William Goldings’ Lord of the Flies. Racy and in-yer-face for sure, yet at the centre of this coming of age tragi-comic oddity beats a powerful dark heart.
Runs until 22nd AugustGuest reviewer: Daphne Penn