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Tender Napalm at the King’s Head Theatre

On a pure white sunken stage, a man (Jaz Hutchins) faces a woman (Adeline Waby). There is a pause and then he says “Your mouth”. And so begins the rollercoaster ride that is Philip Ridley’s one-act play Tender Napalm at the King’s Head Theatre.

Tender Napalm - Photo Mark Senior.
Tender Napalm – Photo Mark Senior.

The man and woman are trapped on a desert island – or are they – and play a constant game of telling each other fantastic stories of who they are and their position on the island – again, or do they?

This is the conundrum of Ridley’s writing, what is real and what is not.  As we journey with Man and Woman, their fantasies are interwoven with glimpses back in time to a party they both attended in their teens.  But is this shared experience real or is it a way of linking their individual fantasies to connect the two of them? Well, I’ve seen the play and read the script but I’m still not sure.  Normally this would leave me feeling really frustrated and feeling rather stupid but, in this case, the effect is very different. Because it doesn’t matter what is real and what
is fantasy, the quality of the writing, staging and acting, takes away all these worries and just gave me a wonderful feeling of experiencing something unique.

Ridley’s story – and I use that word fairly loosely – covers a vast range of subjects. I could list them all here, but instead, I’ll give you a flavour of some of the ones that really sat with me: Grenades, ducks, a tsunami, subservient monkeys, a rock shaped like a whale, mango & passion fruit, alien genocide and a very unusual dolphin from Atlantis. A massive eclectic selection of things that Ridley somehow weaves into interconnected stories from the man and woman that immerse the audience in the real/fantasy world and hold their attention for seventy truly fascinating minutes. This is superb, if totally confusing, writing.

Hutchins and Waby have real chemistry as Man and Woman respectively. They deliver their individual stories beautifully but, more importantly, they really listen when the other is eulogising. You sense the story they are hearing is fresh and as riveting to them as it is to the audience. Each brings their character to life wonderfully. Man is a ‘real man’ (whatever that is) with a tender side, while Woman is a competitor in the game of life with a desire to win. But underneath their bravado and surface, there are two people who could be acquaintances/friends/comrades/lovers, who knows what? In the world of fantasy they inhabit, anything and everything is possible. Both characters and by definition the actors, are amazingly energetic and Director Max Harrison, along with Movement Director Sam Angell, really get the actors to provide a physical accompaniment to their various stories that makes use of every inch of the performing space and links the eyes to the ears for the audience taking in the magical words. This did cause a problem for me and there was a point, about halfway in the show where Woman was standing directly between me and Man, blocking my view. Frustrating but in some ways understandable with a thrust stage.

Before summing up, I want to mention the lighting. A friend of mine who is a designer told me that the mark of good lighting is that you don’t notice it, and designer Holly Ellis has done a superb job in lighting this show. The light changes are very subtle and work perfectly with the script establishing the atmosphere beautifully.

Summing up. I think Tender Napalm is one of those shows where a hundred different people will watch it and take away a hundred different interpretations of what they had seen. I really loved it. Ridley’s writing is amazing, taking emotions from elation to sadness in a single paragraph. His use of words to create images is truly superb. For example, my favourite line from the whole show is this “I thrust up my sword. It’s like digging a hole in a sky made of meat”, I could never imagine putting a sentence together like that but when I heard it, delivered with real force by Man, I could immediately picture the scene and was totally immersed in it. While the pace slows a bit near the end, the show itself is first-rate and, as all good theatre should, leaves the audience with much to think about and discuss as they set themselves the task of understanding the ride they have just been on. Brilliant.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Two lovers. A desert Island. Sea serpents. UFOs. Tsunamis. Unicorns. Atomic bombs. What is this thing…called
love? This brutal yet tender two-hander explores the heights and the depths of a romantic relationship through a
series of narrative threads, ranging from the fantastical to the hallucinatory. Delving into the most primal human
emotions – raw, visceral and dangerously honest.

Cast
Man – Jaz Hutchins
Woman – Adeline Waby

Company information
Writer Philip Ridley
Director Max Harrison
Movement Director Sam Angell
Set and Costume Designer Kit Hinchcliffe
Lighting by Holly Ellis
Sound design by Camille Marchadour
Producer Zoe Weldon
Stage Manager Gianluca Zona

Lidless Theatre and Zoe Weldon present:
Tender Napalm
The 10th-anniversary revival of Philip Ridley’s seminal play
Written by Philip Ridley | Directed by Max Harrison
26 Oct – 20 Nov 2021
King’s Head Theatre, 115, Upper Street, London N1 1QN
https://kingsheadtheatre.com/

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