Review: Bash

Louise Ashwell 2 May 2012


Corpus Playroom Lateshow, 9.30pm, until Sat 5th May

A play which its own publicity bills as ‘an uncompromising dive into the darkest recesses of the human psyche’ is a hard-sell at any time of the year, but surely never more so than during the stress-fest that is exam term. If any time is found at all for a play within the confines of a hectic revision schedule, then an escapist comedy is top of the bill for most. Yet whilst escapist this play is most certainly not, do grant this intriguing production two hours of your time this week.

The Fletcher Players have adapted Neil LaBute’s 1999 off-Broadway production with remarkable panache. Composed of three short plays, each has as its subject an essentially good Mormon protagonist, alluding to LaBute’s own fellowship of the Church, grappling with the knowledge that they are capable of violence and evil, in some cases, even against those they love the most.

The play features some excellent performances; particularly deserving of recognition is that by Max Upton in its first act, titled ‘iphigenia in orem’. His portrayal of a white-collar manager evokes powerfully the stresses, strains and backstabbing of the business world. Yet where Upton excels is in his capacity for detailing the very banalities of his domestic life. Where the final plot twist revealing the inhumanity of his actions could so easily have been hammed up, he utilises the play’s confessional mode to its potential. Addressing an unseen person in his Las Vegas hotel room, he brings to his performance a pathos and degree of subtlety which conveys most effectively of all the characters his crime’s impossibility for closure. Olivia Emden in her monologue, ‘medea redux’, delivers another sterling performance reminiscing on a teenage love affair, whose abrupt and tragic end resonates still nearly fifteen years later. Emden brings an unflinching honesty and maturity to the performance which is most impressive.

If we talk often about a play of two halves, then this was one of two thirds. My gripe, in large part with the play itself, though in part too with this production, is that the second act of the three, ‘a gaggle of saints’, just does not seem to fit in with the others. Lacking the influence of Greek tragedy which pervades the other two plays, as well as being thematically distinct, it sits uneasily between them. This was not helped by performances which, though by no means bad, did not match the subtlety which their compatriots brought to their character development. Tom Russell as John in particular relied too heavily on thrashing his hands about to convey what ended up being a rather one-dimensional persona.

‘Bash’ is an emotionally demanding play which refuses to flinch from some rather dark and disturbing human truths. But it is also a rewarding play, and one which in the sense of intimacy which is created with the characters (kudos, by the by, to the lighting designer, Andrew Room, whose spotlights are indispensable in achieving this) leaves for a compelling production. For a powerful work featuring some really exceptional student acting, you could do far worse than this.

Louise Ashwell