Prayer Machine

Theatre, Drama
3 out of 5 stars
Prayer Machine
1/4
Photograph: Jodie HutchinsonPatrick Williams and Joe Petruzzi in Prayer Machine
Prayer Machine
2/4
Photograph: Jodie HutchinsonPatrick Williams and Joe Petruzzi in Prayer Machine
Prayer Machine
3/4
Photograph: Jodie HutchinsonPatrick Williams and Joe Petruzzi in Prayer Machine
Prayer Machine
4/4
Photograph: Jodie HutchinsonPatrick Williams and Joe Petruzzi in Prayer Machine

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

The connection between two schoolboy lovers decades later remains inexplicable in Red Stitch's production of Prayer Machine

Early in Eric Gardiner’s Prayer Machine, about two men who hook up again decades after their original schoolboy romance, I thought about Hamlet’s incredulity at his mother’s choice of partner, after the sanctity of her first marriage. “You cannot call it love; for at your age the hey-day in the blood is tame, it’s humble, and waits upon the judgement: and what judgement would step from this to this?” He’s basically asking, “What the hell do you see in this guy?!” It’s a germane question, one that Gardiner and his actors seem incapable of answering.

The play opens – and closes – with Paterson (Patrick Williams) alone in a nondescript hotel room, deliberately chosen for its soullessness. He wants a place to meet up with Cantona (Joe Petruzzi) – the names are never used in the play so they may as well be man one and man two – that is stripped of charm and meaning; compartmentalism is so much easier if attachments are kept to a bare minimum. Paterson is married to a woman, and wants these purely sexual liaisons with his old school chum to slot neatly into his life. What Cantona wants is more difficult to ascertain. Is he genuinely still in love with this man he hasn’t seen in years? Or is he simply a masochist?

Masochism would make sense, given how utterly repugnant Paterson is. An early exchange about living arrangements sets the mood: when Cantona explains where he lives, Paterson’s response is, “You rent. I buy.” When inserting future hook-ups into his phone calendar, he decides to make them “grey. Default colour.” When he isn’t lecturing, he’s baiting; there’s a smarmy, sneering quality to him, and it should be no surprise to anyone to discover he’s in real estate.

As the play progresses, we begin to garner a slight thawing of Paterson’s contempt, and there are hints of an inner conflict that occasionally break through the carapace of self-loathing that presumably drives the character, but it isn’t enough. Williams has been given a largely preposterous part, and isn’t a nuanced enough actor to suggest the roiling humanity that might make sense of it. Petruzzi is cloying and overdone as the pining lover; his mannered, jittery physicality comes across as coquettish when it should be desperate.

Krystalla Pearce’s direction is stolid for the most part, emphasising the play’s cold surfaces over the keening romanticism that lies under the surface. She favours long Pinteresque pauses over rapid-fire banter, but Gardiner’s script is neither chilling nor sharp enough to sustain the mood. Sex scenes are entirely offstage, which feels coy rather than suggestive, and one key moment of violent eruption totally fails to fire. There is no sense that these men are fucking, let alone capable of hurting each other physically. The result is a kind of psychic slow-burn that flickers out in the darkness.

Perhaps Gardiner imagined these two men as lovers in the mode of Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai, doomed and beautiful and perverse. Certainly, they echo the two men from Happy Together, Kar-wai’s only film about a gay couple; but even more so, Paterson feels like the insufferable prick in the earlier Days of Being Wild, abusive, selfish and irredeemable. What Gardiner’s play lacks, and what sustains Kar-wai’s characters even at their most hollow, is sensuality, something sexual and passionate and alive. As it stands, there is no reason for Cantona to be with Paterson for more than a few moments of grubby copulation, no “judgement that would step from this to this”.

By: Tim Byrne

Posted:

Details

You may also like
    Best selling Time Out Offers