views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Bash
Etcetera Theatre
11th June 2015

★★★☆☆

Bash by Neil LaBute

Photography provided by Roonagh Productions

Apparently the Mormons really like the Book of Mormon - sure, it's offensive and silly, but people have never been more interested in their religion. Having said that, not all publicity is good publicity, because when they got wind of the Bash Latterday Plays penned by famous follower Neil LaBute, they temporarily kicked him out of their church. Overreaction? Well, considering LaBute makes his characters Mormons and also murderers and bigots, you can start to understand why the Latter-day Saints don't particularly like this trio of plays very much. Everyone has the potential to do evil - according to LaBute that is - but it would be easy to view Bash as an attack on one smaller community.

The title of the first piece, Iphigenia in Orem, is almost a spoiler for the play's content. The girl takes her name from mythology and Orem, if you didn't know, is a city in Utah. Our protagonist is a businessman (Stephen Gibbons) rather than a Greek commander, and he's chosen a random passer-by to be his confessor. Sat in a hotel room chatting to a stranger, he's visibly agitated and draws us into his unhappy story. Gibbons delivers a haunting performance as a man on the edge, unable to see an end to his secret grief.

Closing play, Medea Redux, feels even stronger, possibly because it's not only upsetting, but has some throwaway dark humour laced throughout. Sarah Purcell portrays a woman recounting a teenage affair with her high school teacher, and the son that she bore as a result. Her actions are perhaps the hardest to understand out of all the troubled characters we meet, and although she's clear enough in her description, it takes some time for events to sink in due to their nature. As the woman tells her tale from behind a desk, with a tape recorder on, she folds, unfolds, tears and balls up a tissue, her fidgeting helping to relay her internal turmoil. She's outwardly calm, but she's been through a lot and this has driven her to unspeakable acts.

The only play in which both Gibbons and Purcell share the stage is A Gaggle of Saints, as students John and Sue. Here, it feels like another pair of monologues, with the two actors never looking at each other. They tell a related but very different account of a big night out, talking in turn without any intentional overlap. There are, though, some occasional fluffs and clashes with Gibbons and Purcell unable to glance at each other to take their cues, and it's here that the lack of direction shows. Their individual performances are believable and there are some wonderful tiny details which layer their characters, but workshopping a play isn't really a substitute for having one director lead.

A black box theatre like The Etcetera is an ideal setting for a collection of plays such as these, with minimal props and a stark white light making the focus the words. Monologues can be a challenge to, well, bluntly, make interesting, but each one act play is framed and acted well, save for a few mistakes. Lighting designer Maud Madlyn makes some simple but effective choices, generally using the lights to make the stage even smaller and the confessions more intimate, and in A Gaggle of Saints, using blue and red to highlight John's alternating cruelty and rage.

This debut offering from Roonagh Productions shows that founding members Gibbons and Purcell aren't afraid to tackle dark material and certainly have the ability to create compelling theatre. All three plays are unsettling and may make you view the world with a little less wide-eyed innocence afterwards, but when isn't that case with anything written by LaBute?

Bash opened on 11th June and runs until 14th June 2015 at the Etcetera Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)



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