Twenty Something Theatre
Tender Napalm by Philip Ridley

Dates and Venue October 23 - November 3, at Tues – Sat 8pm (Sun at 2pm) | Havana Theatre, 1212 Commercial Drive

Director Sabrina Evertt Performers Sean Harris Oliver and Claire Hesselgrave

Reviewer Erin Jane

Philip Ridley’s Tender Napalm is an experience like none I’ve ever had before. Walking into the tiny and intimate 40-seater Havana Theatre, the set was bare - just a white floor. The following 85 minutes would be a very poetic, intensely emotional, tumultuous and fantastical intercommunication between an unnamed man and woman.

The audience may find the first 80 minutes utterly confusing, but will need to hold out until the final five minutes or so, when everything finally comes together. Until then, the bewildering journey is punctuated by beautiful contemporary dance, some light singing, crying, sweating, and cursing. The soundtrack informs the mood - playful moments highlighted by sparse piano, discordant melodies convey bad memories, and rich orchestral music indicates sexuality and intense emotions between the two artists on stage.

The line “I don’t want to let in reality” is delivered during this unconventional performance, which captures the sentiment of this play perfectly. Sean Harris Oliver and Claire Hesselgrave play the parts of the Man and Woman respectively, and are both very talented dancers. Their form was fluid and complemented the dramatic themes well. But their performance consisted less of dance and more of the telling of disjointed memories and snippets of fantasy worlds, and it took some time for me to immerse myself.

The dialogue was at times difficult to follow, very abstract, and to this reviewer often a little overdone. I felt that at times that the juxtaposition of ideas (bullets, grenades, sexuality) was a little obvious, and the language too intentionally shocking, and tried to be overly extreme and controversial. Or perhaps this reviewer just appreciates subtlety more.

Though this ambitious production of Tender Napalm was at times uncomfortable and overcomplicated, the ending is worth the wait if only to have everything finally click into place. And also there is an incredible Dirty Dancing-style lift that on its own is worth sticking around to see.

© 2015 Erin Jane