Friday, 29 October 2021

REVIEW: Tender Napalm at the King’s Head Theatre

A visit to the King’s Head Theatre in Islington always feels like a lesson in theatrical history. Since its inception in 1970 the venue has become the big daddy of fringe theatre. Panning around the bar is a visual amble to savour. The walls are covered with pictures of past productions featuring the great and good; it is very much an actor’s theatre and familiar faces can be spotted mingling in the wings. This performance has added expectation in the staging of Tender Napalm by Philip Ridley. A significant talent who could never just be called a playwright, Ridley has excelled in poetry, photography and children’s literature. He also wrote the screenplay for the hugely successful film ‘The Krays’ starring Gary and Martin Kemp.

Ridley’s plays have often been tagged as ‘adult’ and ‘in-yer-face’, Tender Napalm is no exception as a man (Jaz Hutchins) and woman (Adeline Waby) communicate with passion and intensity. Health warnings adorn the publicity blurb and signs displayed at the door make the position abundantly clear. There are 'scenes of a sexual nature' which sets the bar at a predictable level. The black interior was suitably lit by red and ultra violet lights as dry ice spread throughout the room. Our protagonists took the stage in white vests and combat pants. Man and woman begin an exposition of their lives with a narrative that is both explicit and challenging. They are a couple in love but contrasting emotions clash as reality crosses with fantasy. Tales of tsunamis, serpents and UFOs give expression to feelings of anger, frustration and grief. There is reference to a desert island and armies of monkeys serving mangoes and passion fruits; it makes for a hazy but compelling narrative.

There is no doubt that Philip Ridley is a brilliant wordsmith with a masterful command of the English language. However, the concepts explored are abstract and sometimes difficult to follow. To its credit, the physicality and overtly sexual language adds a comedic edge that lightens the mood. What elevates this play to greater heights are the outstanding turns delivered by Jaz Hutchins and Adeline Waby. They engage in a series of delightful duels as they beat and cajole each other in a game of one upmanship. It garners an extra star for their efforts alone as they add flesh to the bones of a literate script that might otherwise have sunk into pure verbiage. 

Review by Brian Penn

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: B15 | Price of Ticket: £26.50
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