Project Arts Centre, Dublin
In Tender Napalm, love and violence are inextricably linked: it is as easy to be suffocated by a kiss as it is to be strangled by a tight embrace.
Shipwrecked on a tropical desert island, the tsunami that has washed Man and Woman ashore is a metaphor for the overwhelming nature of their desire. They are fighting against each other for survival, and yet one cannot contemplate life without the other.
Philip Ridley’s play unfolds in fragmentary form, as Man and Woman create the world around them with their words: Woman calls a serpent into being and lo it appears; Man pulls the pin of a grenade and their fantasy is destroyed, only to be refashioned again. Potent imagery recurs like notes from a Freudian dream diary: shoreline flotsam, mother, father, a pair of gold heart-shaped earrings, a child.
The pair are locked in a power struggle, but the symbolism suggests a more universal battle. The lesson they have yet to grasp is that love is the inevitable death of the self; however, it is also the birth of something greater.
Colm McNally’s set is an abstract forest of trees studded with light. Evocative of totem poles, the raw wooden structures remind us of the primitive nature of the couple’s desire, while the otherworldly tone to the setting expresses the self-contained nature of the lovers’ world. Indeed, if there is any criticism to be made of Sugarglass’s production, it is that it is too beautiful for such raw material, and yet the savagery seems even more startling when set against the near-whimsy of the production’s virginal palette.
Director Marc Atkinson confidently negotiates the complex material of Ridley’s disconnected dramaturgy, although the production struggles with some of the structural repetition towards the end. Aaron Heffernan and Erica Murray as Man and Woman, meanwhile, navigate the shift between tenderness and cruelty with conviction. They are also young enough to evoke an adolescent potency of feeling throughout, before the play reveals itself in the quasi-naturalistic finale.
Tender Napalm is certainly challenging – both in form and explicit content – and yet if it reminds the audience of anything, it is that beautiful and dark tragedy of teenage obsession: Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
Until December 8th ****