Staging a play which revolves around the interactions of two characters, simply named ‘man’ and ‘woman’, as they build up a series of stories through dialogue is no mean feat. However, Barricade Arts have pulled this off exceptionally well in their production of Philip Ridley’s ‘Tender Napalm’. Ridley’s play, set in an ambiguous, abstract location, explores the relationship and love that grows between two people, shifting between scenes of fantasy and reality in a shimmering and emotionally moving sequence of poetically crafted vignettes.
Ridley’s script is exceptional, and director Catriona Bolt and her talented cast have worked hard to do it justice. The dialogue flames with a passionate intensity as the characters move through the highs and lows of their relationship, and the energy of the actors remains consistently strong throughout. Hannah Marsters as ‘woman’ gives a thoughtful performance which strikes a balance as her character fluctuates between child-like naivety and a passionate sexuality. James Walsh as ‘man’ is the perfect counterpart to this, working to draw out the more comic elements of the script. The acting is strongest, however, in the scenes in which the two come together in their story-telling. As they conversationally visualise a fantasy world of serpents, crocodiles and a dildo shaped like a whale from the lost city of Atlantis, Marsters and Walsh build off each other with a relationship that emits a palpable chemistry. The two interact with ease and a world around them is brought to life through the power of compelling storytelling. Testimony to the compelling nature of their language comes from a scene in which their exchange consists of single words flung at each other from across the stage, accompanied by the physical presence of leaping, jumping and grabbing which brings them excitedly alive.
Ridley’s script is exceptional, and director Catriona Bolt and her talented cast have worked hard to do it justice.
The intimacy of the interactions between Marsters and Walsh is enhanced by the staging – the black box space of the Pilch is the perfect location for a piece which seeks to immerse its audience so completely in its world. The stage is bare, and lit from underneath by a string of white LED tape which creates an other-worldly, luminous aura serving to suspend the audience in time and place as stories swirl around them. This is aided by Jonny Danciger’s beautiful soundscape, subtle and emotive, working to immerse the audience in the production. His original composition for Ridley’s song ‘Fade and Float’ is a haunting and mesmerising melody, which perfectly captures the fragility underscoring the script.
It is the presence of this fragility, which remains a latent force even within the staccato bursts of physicality and excitement, which is the triumph of Barricade Art’s production. Catriona Bolt’s direction has worked well to emphasise the intimacy and vulnerability which features throughout Ridley’s writing, creating a tender and nuanced performance. The time, energy and careful consideration which has gone into this production is clearly apparent, and is proof of the abundant talent within the Oxford drama scene.