Tender Napalm – a striking title that does what Philip Ridley’s work always manages to do: infuse the bliss of benign fantasy with something terrifying and violent. Directed by David Mercatali, Supporting Wall’s production returns to the Southwark Playhouse after debuting at the theatre in 2011.
Tender Napalm probably is the most tender of Ridley’s plays to be performed around London in 2012 so far. A boy and a girl leap about a bare stage, re-enacting their daydream escapades which slowly and beautifully evolve into a stepping back in time through the blossomings of their relationship.
Yes, the blood and gore and grit are still there, but Tender Napalm takes us to a desert island setting – whether the two are actually there is irrelevant – full of monkeys and sea creatures; pterodactyls and sand and sea foam. This gentler, lighter environ – not a council estate or crumbling living room in sight – is reflected in designer William Reynold’s bright, white lighting and the simple but sexy T-shirt, trainers and jeans worn by the actors.
Lara Rossi is powerful as the Girl – probably one of the feistiest and strongest female characters in Ridley-land. Both she and Tom Byan Shaw as her lover make an intense and unusual pair, creating such a unique relationship that it is hard not to feel jealous of them. Byam Shaw becomes a man possessed during his monumental slaying of a dinosaur and contact with UFOs – but avoids over-indulgence – and his spraying of spit and sweat caught in the lights is bizarrely pretty and appropriate.
Movement director Tom Godwin must be commended for some choreography which most definitely cross the divide between acting and dance. Any actors looking for a sure-fire way to get in shape should act in a Philip Ridley play!
The fantasies and tangents on which Ridley’s people take us are intoxicatingly evocative. It’s the care and detail brought to these reveries that make them so potent. Here is a playwright who knows how to get to the core of his audience by delving inside the most intimate corners of our thoughts and yearnings. We are taken on journeys into our own subconscious, not just his – and how could we possibly not with the encyclopedia of colourful images that make these works of art so striking.
Tender Napalm is on for another nine days at the Southwark Playhouse, until 23 June.