Written by Jan Guillou in 1981, Ondskan (The Evil) is a largely autobiographical novel about violence in the domestic and educational spheres. In this play, first staged by fellow Swede Benny Haag and directed here by Rebecca Vaa, protagonist Erik Ponti recounts his harrowing tale as an hour-long monologue. This ruse magnifies the inherent intensity of the play’s intrigue, whose central question posits of the human psyche: are we naturally evil?
Ed Limb plays Erik, whose life is governed by violence. He is mercilessly beaten by his stepfather at home and school gang leader, his vicious tendencies matched by teachers in the classroom. Limb conveys a brooding confidence reminiscent of a young Brando, a necessary reaction against the psychological trauma within Erik. His presence is always powerful, and he easily elicits the paltry audience’s sympathy for the harshness of his environment. Jerome Burulbach is a chief contributor to this disturbing atmosphere as Erik’s stepfather, the few words he utters but one aspect of the dastardly, repressed character he remarkably evokes through gestures and body movements.
Although Erik’s supposedly fresh start at a boarding school merely sees his encounter with violence take on a more sadistic turn, the play succeeds in steering clear of encompassing this shift through shock value alone. Instead, the most sinister aspect of this transformation is not the physical itself, but the inescapable, ingrained motives behind them. The introduction of Erik’s bespectacled, frail roommate Pierre sees this sadism become a portal for internal reflection. Ellen McGrath portrays him as a desperate, doomed intellectual wallflower, whose fear is as chilling as it is futile. Her relationship with Limb as Erik is poignant precisely because of this futility, as the philosophical musings between the characters can be reduced to a mutual need for survival which necessarily conjoins their disparate personalities.
Although an unavoidably dark tale, Limb displays Erik’s latent emotional development by the play’s dénouement. His reactions are particularly striking when throbbing with emotion reading a letter from Pierre, then finally confronting his stepfather. The supporting cast are aptly menacing, in particular Hao Feng, who plays tyrannical head boy Silverhjelm as a grunting, primal beast. The marked prominence of Erik is the play’s centrepiece, however, and Ed Limb is indelible as the mould around which the narrative unfolds. That the six-person cast virtually outnumbered the audience was the only shame – such a magnetic production deserves greater appreciation.
The Evil is at Corpus Playroom, 9.30pm until Saturday. Tickets can be bought here.