Review: Cruel and Tender

Bryony Bates 21 November 2011

Cruel and Tender

ADC Lateshow, 11pm, until Sat 5th Nov

A three star rating often indicates mediocrity – something that is serviceable, enjoyable but ultimately not very interesting. This is not the case with Cruel and Tender. I went with three other people: two of us loved it, the other two hated it. A divisive production then, but one that I think deserves to be seen.

The play’s tagline might well have been “The personal is political.” Amelia (Megan Roberts) stays shut up in her perfect white house with a trio of servants (Matilda Wnek, Kesia Guillery and Ailis Creavin) who clear up all her messes for her, while her husband the General (Lawrence Bowles) “cleanses” the world in the War on Terror. Martin Crimp brings the seemingly distant high-octane emotion of Greek tragedy into the present day, and the horror of the script lies in the even-handed way every kind of story is treated: atrocities are brushed off with the same kind of platitudes as a brief love affair. This kind of writing is not for everyone – its emphasis on formal complexity can make it hard to connect with. I happen to think this is how political theatre should be done, and Chloe Mashiter’s production handles a difficult script well. I have not always liked Mashiter’s work as a director, but I’m now eager to see what she will do next.

Megan Roberts has a tricky job to do and her performance initially seemed to be going down the rather obvious ‘Stepford wife’ route. However, her confrontation with her son James (Jack Parlett) was utterly compelling. Roberts showed us the confusion of a woman whose comforting prejudices are being destroyed, without making Amelia into the victim she fiercely refuses to be. Parlett was also strong: he didn’t lose his character’s consistency while showing us his painful transformation from boy to man. Greek choruses usually make me cringe, but I could believe that Wnek, Guillery and Creavin were three women who were friends and individuals as well as a tool to ‘comment on the action’ as the A-Level cliche goes, and Guillery’s camp shrieking made her a perfectly (high) pitched scene-stealer.

Some parts were sadly lacking – the pivotal moment when Amelia is told exactly what her husband has done seemed curiously flat – and the production as a whole took time to warm up. Maybe this was just first night teething troubles, but it seemed to me that the first few scenes were not nearly tight enough, and this is crucially why some audience members ended up lost for the whole of the play. Whatever its problems, Cruel and Tender demands that you pay attention – and that’s more than can be said for most student stabs at Greek tragedy.

Bryony Bates