Tender Napalm

WRITTEN BY: Philip Ridley
DIRECTED BY: Melissa Cantwell
STARRING: Joshua Brennan, Anna Houston
RATING: 3 stars

"Your mouth ... it's such a wet thing. I could squeeze a bullet between those lips." Perth Theatre Company has given Australia its premiere production of provocative British playwright Philip Ridley’s Tender Napalm, which opened at the State Theatre Centre this week. To watch Tender Napalm is to experience several years of a couple's life, through all the highs and lows dramatically and cleverly encapsulated in 90 minutes. The gamut of emotions the protagonists and the audience experience is a crazy roller-coaster of anger, fear, hatred, grief, betrayal, vengeance and rejection juxtaposed with desire, happiness and passion. It feels more like highly imaginative poetry than a play.

In this production of Tender Napalm, the stage is simple but used very effectively. The audience surrounds the stage at the back and front, with a single bathtub to one side of the stage. It is an intimate setting in a confined spaced and yet the production is larger than life in many ways.

Ridley's beautiful script is full of intensity and suspense. It's quirky, funny, dramatic, crude and passionate. Tender Napalm is the kind of play that requires a lot of imagination from the audience as the two characters drift into their fantasy world of deserted islands, deep oceans, aliens, serpents, monkeys and war. It is their animated voices and the way they move around the stage that brings the story to life. It requires a lot of energy from the two leads. There is no intermission, it's just a solid 90 minutes of action, emotion, conflict and passion.

Joshua Brennan and Anna Houston give highly energetic performances. Brennan in particular is very good and is due to graduate from WAAPA this year. He looks set to have a successful career as an actor. Credit must also be given to choreographer Russell Leonard, who created an amazingly tense and dramatic fight sequence between the leads for the climax.

There has been a lot of hype about the nudity in this production, but it's not as controversial or confronting as you might think. The nudity is not only justified, but also quite important in tying the story together and establishing the foundation of the characters and their relationship.

At times you wonder where the plot is going, but it is all beautifully tied together in the end. Tender Napalm is definitely not for everyone, but if you like theatre and thought-provoking stories, then it is certainly worth seeing.

Photograph by Stefan Gosatti