The tiny space of Trafalgar Studio 2 has hosted many productions since it opened – from Rod Beacham’s Lies Have Been Told to Nina Raine’s Rabbit – which all make use of the intimate nature of the space and the close proximity of the audience to deliver a piece of theatre that has an impact a large space would not allow. Bash – Latterday Plays is no different. Caroline Bishop went into this dimly-lit, smoky den, where storms seemed to be lashing down outside, to see this dark and thought-provoking production.
It was an intelligent, gripping and at times both funny and shocking evening at Trafalgar Studio 2 last night. American playwright Neil LaBute’s trio of short plays is a cleverly composed portrayal of the contradictions in human nature, which has the audience at first believing one thing, only to have all preconceptions destroyed.
Based on Greek myths but re-told for the contemporary world, the three stories all present characters that we know, or can imagine, in our lives today, which makes their revelations all the more shocking and all the more real. Each story is told direct to the audience in Studio 2, the actors’ proximity adding to the reality of the piece.
The first play, Iphigenia In Orem, sees a young, married, family man (David Sturzaker) speaking to someone he meets in a hotel bar while on a business trip (the audience). His monologue at first reveals a man devoted to his wife and family, and an upstanding member of Mormon society (all three plays reference the Mormon faith, of which LaBute is a member). The audience is drawn to sympathise with the hard times the man has gone through after his five-month-old baby girl died – until he admits a final truth.
In A Gaggle Of Saints, Harry Lloyd and Jodie Whittaker play John and Sue, a clean cut, wholesome and superficially innocent American college couple, who relate in excited tones the story of a road trip they made to attend a big party at the New York Plaza. He’s a high school jock with a side-parting and puffed out chest, she’s a squeaky-clean sorority girl whose joy in life is the prospect of engagement. But a shocking act reveals the fears, ignorance and brutality that reside under John’s frat-boy exterior, elements that Sue chooses to ignore.
Completing the trilogy with Medea Redux, Juliet Rylance plays a woman whose life has been ruined by a high school teacher who acted deplorably and ran away from the consequences. The woman’s naivety and innocence are punctuated by moments of strength and rage, which culminate in her ultimate revenge.
When Bash was first performed in 1999, the Mormon church ‘disenfellowshipped’ LaBute, according to the programme notes. It is easy to see why, because each play portrays the values it upholds as merely a gloss over the less salubrious elements of human nature that lie beneath. In short, all the characters are hypocritical and broken, and faith cannot save them. It is a brave, harsh and sadly very real portrayal of society, expertly acted by this young quartet.
Bash runs until 3 February. To book tickets click here.