views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Theatro Technis
27th August 2016


Adrian Gawell and Karen Olrich-White as Raul and Marjorie

Photography provided by Sofa Productions

Watching a play about sexual assault is always uncomfortable. However William Mastrosimone's Extremities doesn't unfold in the way you might think. When Raul (Adrian Gawell) waltzes into an unlocked house with every intention of attacking the lone woman inside it, Marjorie (Karen Olrich-White) gets lucky and manages to break free and subdue him against all odds. Pushed to the edge by the raw fear and shock of what almost happened and by his taunts that he'll get away with everything, Marjorie takes some extreme action, imprisoning her would-be rapist and enlisting her housemates, Terry (Madeleine Meurman) and Patricia (Sarah Moon) in her desperate plan. This is the story of a horrible situation spiralling and escalating in ways that you wouldn't imagine and yet can understand happening.

Casting Gawell against Olrich-White is a smart move. Gawell's physical frame is daunting next to Olrich-White and the difference in stature combined with his character's depraved threats and commands makes us instantly fear for the woman. In a battle based on brute force, we can see there will only be one winner and we feel utterly helpless. When roles are reversed and Raul is at Marjorie's whim, he wages psychological warfare, maintaining control even from the pitiful position of being trapped in a fireplace. As he attempts to divide and conquer the three friends, we can see how they might start to not trust each other due to his clever words and this makes us feel physically sick, immediately understanding the ease with which he manipulates them.

Director Kate Sellers plays with sound and light at the start of the production to mimic the flash of a camera. It makes us feel very voyeuristic and cheap, effectively crouching down in the bushes in Raul's shoes. The fight choreography between Raul and Marjorie is very realistic and upsetting, going on for just long enough to make a distressing outcome feel likely and for the action to come across as unstaged and realistic. These opening scenes are delivered so powerfully and without fault. Although we don't feel the same intense connection throughout the rest of the play, it's still crafted very well at all times.

People often say that fringe productions are one person in a black box with a chair and no other props, but the company have spared no effort in creating Marjorie, Terry and Patricia's shared home. Making the living room a cross-section and building an outside wall for the kitchen allows us to hear Marjorie's torment, with the sound of water almost more gut-wrenching than seeing Raul hold down her head. As with any thriller, it's often the things that you don't see that haunt you the most.

Gawell's portrayal of Raul is exceptional, playing him as a mixture of a truly evil, knowing criminal and a young boy. At its heart this is a very dark text, however there are some moments of humour woven into the narrative, so there are a few laughs to be had. Terry is clearly written as the dippy one of the trio, with many jokes at her expense. Admittedly it's often an a case of laugh or cry, with Sellers focusing on the unexpected comedy rather than merely drawing out the obvious bleakness of each scene.

Extremities is a very well-executed, visceral and deeply harrowing piece of theatre. Sofa Productions have taken a horribly difficult script and staged a very intelligent version that demonstrates a huge amount of skill. It might not be the most enjoyable of shows, but it's certainly an excellent one.

Extremities ran from 24th to 28th August 2016 at Theatro Technis, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Mornington Crescent (Northern)

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