Tender Napalm

Things to do, Games and hobbies
Recommended
3 out of 5 stars
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© Camilla Greenwell Tender Napalm

Evergreen East London-based provocateur Philip Ridley has written his own version of a relationship drama: fantastical, violently beautiful and somewhat elusive in meaning.

What helps a lot is the fact that it’s ferociously well acted: Jack Gordon’s nameless Man oscillates alarmingly between boyish enthusiasm and naked bloodlust as he engages in a duel of anecdotes with Vinette Robinson’s Woman, who shifts unpredictably between silky menace and girl-next-door chattiness. ‘I could squeeze a bullet between those lips,’ he smirks. ‘I could get a spoon and prise it in one of your eye sockets,’ she replies, coolly.

Beyond Ridley’s trademark bruising language is something sweeter, a mutually dependent cycle of fantasy wherein the pair egg each other on with improbable autobiographical tales about the monkey-populated, sea-serpent-visited island upon which they are allegedly stranded.

Whether there is any island is impossible to say: William Reynolds’s set is simply a strip of floor between two banks of audience seats. But allusions to real-life traumas – the death of his father, some dark incident from her childhood – suggest this set-up could be an elaborate emotional coping mechanism.

It’s evocative, hallucinatory stuff, but I’m not sure Ridley has got the balance of tenderness and napalm quite right. The underlying warmth takes the danger out of the pair’s flights of fancy, but their words and actions remain too opaque to let you in emotionally. Still, it’s an unforgettable 80 minutes.

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