Review: Shoot Coward!

Leanne Walstow 30 October 2013

8pm, Corpus Playroom, Tue 29 Oct to Sat 2 Nov

Shoot Coward! brings three plays from Latin America never before seen on the British stage. With minimal set and only two actors featuring in each performance the experience is intensely raw and personal. There are no visual distractions so focus remains entirely upon the dialogue which can leave the audience feeling a little awkward (in the best way possible) and exposed at times when the plays are dealing with particularly difficult but equally riveting themes.

The first and longest play, Secret Obscenities by Chilean playwright and psychologist Marco Antonio de la Parra, opens with the meeting of two flashers on a park bench, as they begin talking it becomes clear that they not only share many deep-seated psychological problems and dark passions but also a questionable past. The key theme explored by the play is guilt – the mental damage it inflicts and the lengths we will go to in order to absolve ourselves of it, regardless of the cost to our dignity and moral standing. Both the playwright’s psychological background and national history is apparent throughout, as the script encompasses Freudian theories as well as Marxist ideas set against one of the most horrific periods of Chilean history – the 1973-1990 military government (look it up before you go: as usual, Wikipedia proved my saviour).

The play does lose pace a little towards the end before the final twist (it’s a good one) resulting in a fidgety audience; this isn’t helped by the somewhat repetitive movements of the actors around the stage. However, Tris Hobson delivers a convincing version of near-insanity compared with Jake Thompson, who delivers more in the quieter sections of dialogue, resulting in mutually complementary performances.

Pace is not a problem for the second play, Bony and Kim, which with its snappy dialogue and lively characters kept the audience thoroughly engaged throughout. A pair of seasoned Puerto Rican criminals find fame when they begin robbing fast-food restaurants; they quickly lose any sense of the reality of their actions and find out that celebrity does not mean invincibility. A relatively current cultural issue is well handled and poignant questions posed relating to the way in which celebrities are created, and their effect on the impressionable public. Megan Dalton and Lili Thomas display a remarkable connection as well as adaptability and genuine talent for storytelling in the title roles.

Last but certainly not least comes the captivating tale of a conversation between an ill-fated matador and a rather intelligent bull. The story of Looking into the Stands tackles concepts such as the afterlife, trust and where the line is drawn between animal and human. The opening scene is a vivid display of physical theatre which allows the audience to begin to build conceptions of the characters based on their movements which are challenged later on in the play. Again both roles are brilliantly acted, with flawless accents and initial chemistry well maintained throughout.

Overall Shoot Coward! is well worth the time and money: the density of material alone is enough to provoke discussion and reflection on the heavy matters explored. With the tagline “three plays from Latin America”, I 'd d have liked to have felt much more immersed in the culture, but this was made up for by the enthralling performances.