Edinburgh Fringe 2011
After a recent run at Dundee Rep, Emma Faulkner brings her production of Dennis Kelly’s 2005 psychological thriller to the Pleasance Courtyard. Tense, harrowing and provocative.
There has been a nuclear explosion. Louise wakes up four feet underground in the bomb shelter at the bottom of Mark’s garden. Mark explains that he rescued her after a suitcase bomb killed their colleagues at her leaving do. The radio is broken and they must wait two weeks for the radioactive fallout to settle before they dare venture above ground. And so they wait. But it isn’t long before events take a sinister turn and the pair are locked in a deadly battle for power.
Tony McGeever plays the insecure, paranoid Mark, the joke of the office and bitterly aware of it. He conveys well the petulant resentment of a man scorned and is quietly threatening in his feeble manner. Helen Darbyshire portrays the popular Louise as confident and feisty, refusing to allow Mark to push her into fulfilling his teenage fantasies (the most innocent of which is playing Dungeons and Dragons), her physicality taking on that of a cornered cat as the situation gets more and more desperate.
Dennis Kelly’s text is dark and well-constructed, making subtle shifts to more threatening territory – he doesn’t give anything away too soon and we’re a fair chunk into the play before we click that something might be amiss. The naturalistic dialogue is fragmented, disjointed, requiring the actors to talk over each other, in half-thoughts, which, when it works, heightens the energy and accelerates the pace but, when the cues and impulses aren’t quite as tight as they could be, can feel a little stilted.
Though the actors are, for the most part, completely engaged with the text, it feels, occasionally, like the gravity of the circumstances isn’t always fully realised. But their relationship remains clear as it changes through the course of the play and the tension between them builds and seeps into the audience as we await their fate. The production benefits from being staged in what is, essentially, a large shed, placing its audience in a space whose atmosphere echoes that of the dark, claustrophobic interior of the bomb shelter. As our eyes struggle to adjust to the darkness – the dim blue glow from the two-bar gas heater the only source of light – we feel like we could be trapped in their prison with them.
Emma Faulkner’s production, though it doesn’t always feel as fresh as it could, is gripping, unsettling and full of surprises, with plenty of dark humour in the mix, too. This harrowing battle of the sexes throws up some uncomfortable ideas about human nature and how extreme circumstances can alter our behaviour and our moral compass in ways we don’t like to believe are possible.