Stench, a new play originally presented at London’s New Cross Theatre, is one of the more intelligent pieces of new writing to explore the wreckage of contemporary relationships, and the fall-out that ensues when the only way to place a protective cover over our own vulnerability is to ensure that the other is named, blamed and scape-goated. In psychoanalysis what is other is a term used to identify what we keep at a distance from ourselves – about ourselves – that is easier to bestow onto someone else. Stench captures the destructive components of this social mechanism, possibly unconsciously, by imbuing its set design with a messy staging of excessive enjoyment – the disarray of unwashed wine glasses, bottles of booze – the empty containers that hold the promise of love through the act of casual sex – and the disappointment that follows when we drop the mask, become vulnerable, and meet only dissatisfaction and complaint, rather than love and acceptance. It’s painful and it’s true of the way we negotiate our journey through life.
Lily Driver and Felicity Huxley-Miners, who have been co-running Instinct Theatre for the past year, are the writers of this well-crafted piece. But the play also benefits enormously from the power of all its actors who have had a hand in directing the motives of their characters. It is truly a marvel to behold and, dare I say, even more so, because of the tender age of each member of its cast.
Stench kicks off with one of the most urgent biological needs – the need to have a shit – difficult when three young women live in a flat share with only one toilet. And so we are introduced to the character of Tilly (Marina Tapakoudes) who demands from Beck (Lily Driver) the owner of the flat, to: ‛Let me in!’ Tilly’s character embodies the position of the scapegoat, the one who tries for rapproachement, but who is ridiculed for her efforts. The one we imagine who might have hung herself after encounters of rejection when she was 15 or 16 if she didn’t possess some knowledge of self worth earlier on in life.
The third member of the flat share is Kate (Felicity Huxley-Miners) less shouty, with layers of cover to protect her uncertainty about who she is and why she believes her plight is more pronounced than that of Beck and Tilly. It is a tribute to the writing that we engage with Kate’s complexities through the introduction of her brother, Nick (Andrew Armitage), who invades the flat with his own shit – he’s been chucked out by his girlfriend and needs a place to stay – but his conversations with his sister, Kate, reveal something that borders on familial incest – not actualised but digging into the corners of desire for her body which he might wish to possess. Nick invites a friend, Zachary (Adam Walker-Kavanagh) who plays out what is unresolved between Nick and Kate, and Kate and Zachary lose no time in taunting Nick with what will never be his.
Without revealing more of the plot, it suffices to say that there is the image of a turd left in the toilet that refuses to be flushed down, the waste of human existence that lingers – an unsocialised aspect of society – demanding to be addressed.
Stench is an amazing play. At this writing, the cast has not informed us of a subsequent date where it might be performed but LondonTheatre1 will be happy to post this notification when we are advised of the name of a venue and of the dates.
High accolades to Instinct Theatre, writers and cast, for their contribution to an exceptional theatrical experience.
Review by Loretta Monaco
Instinct Theatre’s new writing Stench is a dark comedy that explores the complexity of modern relationships and the consequences of listening without hearing in a world that is becoming increasingly insular. Tired of stereotypes we created strong, but flawed, characters trying to find their footing in the remote space between adolescence and actually feeling like an adult.
Kate, Beck and Tilly are three young women in their twenties, planning a quiet night together in their flat. However when Kate’s brother turns up and invites an unwelcome house guest they really get the party going and things rapidly spiral out of control.
A showcase presentation of Stench was performed on Friday, 15 April, at Conway Hall, the Brockway Room, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL.