Monday, June 22, 2015

'A Single Act' at Theatro Technis, 19th June 2015

Something terrible has happened in central London. Shellshocked commuters stumble home, ears ringing from the crash of atrocity, eyes stinging from billowing clouds of disturbed dust. People stare glassily at one another, struggling to process the new world they find themselves in. Precisely what happened remains elusive, but we understand that London has suffered its own 9/11.

Jane Bodie's A Single Act treats the attack like a stone tossed into still waters, ripples reverberating through society. She zeroes in one two relationships: one steadily deteriorating from the moment of the attack, the other told in reverse, showing how a toxic, abusive relationship can stem from once promising beginnings. As the twin tales wind about one another we understand that violence isn't confined to the blast of the bomb or the leaden thump of fist on flesh, but in the lasting impact upon society at large.

Our couples are Michelle and Scott (Lucy Hirst and Tom Myles), and Clea and Neil (Katherine Stevens and Philippe Edwards). All four occupy the same dramatic space, taking turns to occupy a moodily lit Ikea furnished flat. Michelle and Scott are in an obviously poisonous relationship, Scott's affections having warped from romance to possessiveness and violent jealousy; leaving Michelle bruised, battered and with a fractured psyche. Meanwhile Clea and Neil drift inexorably apart, their cosily middle class existence disintegrating piece by piece.

First staged in spring 2005, A Single Act eerily presaged the London terror attacks of that summer - this production coming almost exactly a decade later. This lends it a contemplative mood: while the original text explored the hypothetical effects of such an attack, this production can work from historical perspective, picking at our collective societal scab.

Two particularly strong thematic strands are helplessness and frustration. Neil, a well-to-do artsy middle class photographer, finds himself twisting in the wind. Previously content to merely witness the world around him, his worldview crumbles as he watches the attack to the soundtrack of clicking cameraphones. He's disgusted at the people blithely snapping away, but soon turns that disgust inwards, resolving to do something - anything - to soothe his injured soul. This manifests in emotional distance from his partner and mysterious midnight excursions. Neil is suffering the nihilistic trauma of realising he's a mote of dust caught in the wind, buffeted by forces way beyond his comprehension.

A similar process happens to Scott, but here love has curdled into violence. It's as if the ever-present sight of destroyed buildings drives him towards violence as the solution to his problems. Here a chicken and egg scenario arises - is Scott an intrinsically violent man encouraged by what he sees in front of him, or a kind man infected by omnipresent destruction.

A Single Act never comes down on one side or another, teasing us with implications and gentle nudges. It's refusal to completely explain its argument can get a bit frustrating - especially given the opaque ending, chronologically jumbled ending. Then again, dealing with intense trauma isn't a process with a clearly delineated end, and it's refreshing to see a production that so obviously wants its audience to intellectually evaluate what they've seen.

Though A Single Act is purposefully vague, everything else in the production is honed to razor sharpness. My favourite visual flourish was dousing the actors in a thin layer of talcum powder, resulting in each hug, hit and kiss sending plumes of dust spiralling through the harsh stage lighting. This perfectly feeds into the wider themes of violence having invisible consequences - each interaction literally leaving a residue hanging in the air. 

The individual performances are similarly on point, with Tom Myles' Scott drawing most attention. He's a fascinatingly intense actor, both terrifying as he beats and controls Michelle and bashfully sweet as he romances her. Something awful happens in his eyes when he cycles between the two, his gaze deadening like a shark as it moves in for the kill. This accentuates his ramrod straight physicality, imperceptible shifts in the way he holds himself leaving him looking as if he's possessed by some demonic spirit.

It's a damn fine piece of theatre, one that sent shivers up my spine on several occasions. Everyone in Duelling Productions, should be proud of staging a production with this much power and insight. I eagerly await whatever they're cooking up next.


A Single Act was at Theatro Technis until the 20th. Production info here.

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