Tender Napalm – Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff Writer: Philip Ridley Director: Chris Durnall Reviewer: Jacqui Onions Tender Napalm is a mind-blowing piece of writing from Philip Ridley. Clever, witty, poetic and emotive, this play has it all. In its Welsh premiere from Company of Sirens, enter the fantasy world of an unknown couple in an unknown place and see reality trying to rear its ugly head in their dreams as we explore their relationship in the face of atrocity. A two-hander, Tender Napalm is performed to perfection by Matthew Buglo and Jannah Warlow. This hugely wordy piece is a massive undertaking for just two actors and, although quite long for a one-act play, Buglo and Warlow are thoroughly engaging throughout and both bring great depth to their characters. They each express a plethora of emotions both internally and towards each other,  taking the audience on a roller coaster ride that takes your breath away and leaves the watcher stunned by the experience. Warlow also demonstrates that she has a beautifully haunting singing voice that is a pleasure to listen to. Costumed in light coloured outfits that are stained and torn, their design cleverly gives a sense of trauma without giving away a place, era or any indication of what that trauma might have been. The auditorium is set up with audience members seated either side of the performance area which works well to draw the audience in, with Chris Durnall’s direction suiting this well. Bethany Seddon’s set design is perfectly minimalistic and coupled with Jane Lalljee’s subtle lighting, the actors are given the blank canvas they need to beautifully blur the lines between fantasy and reality, imagining everything from memories of a party to unicorns and serpents. The soundscape follows the same subtly effective theme; complementing but never detracting from the drama. It is used to particular effect as the audience enter the auditorium and – coupled with Buglo and Warlow being in the performance space from the outset; pacing, fidgeting and staring – creates a feel of unease and anticipation. Contemporary and edgy, Tender Napalm may not be to everyone’s tastes, but it is undeniable that  Company of Sirens have produced an incredible piece of theatre in bringing this play to Wales for the first time.

Tender Napalm

Philip Ridley

Company Of Sirens, Theatr Iolo, Chapter

Chapter, Cardiff

From 29 May 2014 to 31 May 2014

Review by Othniel Smith

Tender Napalm 
Credit: Company Of Sirens

Tender Napalm is the second of two plays by Philip Ridley being given their Welsh première by Company Of Sirens. Following on from Mercury Fur, it is another disturbing piece, although in this case, the violence remains purely fantastical.

As we enter the arena, a couple, dressed vaguely in rags, are already in place, wandering around Bethany Seddon’s spare set, comprised of two chairs, with the playing space bounded by white curtains. The unnamed woman sings a song whose tenderness, it quickly transpires, is uncharacteristic.

Tender Napalm starts out as a savagely parodic take on the games which couples play in the private universes which they create for themselves. The man and woman talk about visiting extreme brutality, sexual and otherwise, on one another—the title, one assumes, refers to the nature of language itself.

The couple visualise themselves as living on a desert island populated by monkeys which may or may not be at their command; about slaying huge sea-monsters; about being visited by UFOs filled with war-like aliens. The outside world seems to exist only in an apparently shared past. A past which, it is poignantly hinted, is touched by tragedy.

This is that most testing of theatrical forms for all concerned—a play consisting of one long, continuous act, playing out in what seems like real time. Matthew Bulgo and Jannah Warlow handle Ridley’s profane poeticism with skill, but allow us to see that beneath the cruel playfulness, there is pain.

Director Chris Durnall ensures that the pace doesn’t flag over the eighty or so minutes, and that the verbosity is matched by physicality. Jane Lalljee’s lighting effects and Dan Lawrence’s subtle sound design ensure that the many changes of mood are sympathetically conyeyed, as the verbal sparring gives way to something more profound.

Man and Woman semi-seriously appear to threaten one another with breathtaking ultra-violence. For all the crude abandon of their exchanges, however, it becomes clear that there is much which must remain unsaid.

Initially, the theme of Tender Napalm seems to be the universality of irrationality within relationships. Its true focus, however (as with a previous Company Of Sirens Welsh première—Anthony Neilson’s Stitching), turns out to be grief, loss and divine injustice, and our strategies, whether healthy or unhealthy, for coping with them.

This is a challenging play, although not a forbidding one. This bracingly entertaining production succeeds in foregrounding its vicious humour, whilst not permitting its arguably sensationalist take on the subject matter to blind us to the fact that uncomfortable emotional depths are being plumbed.

 

Tender Napalm

Company of Sirens, Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff,

 

April 22 - 26

 

Writer: Philip Ridley

 

Director: Chris Durnall

 

 

Company of Sirens’ latest production offers up a superb, breathless vision of

Philip Ridley’s powerful two-hander, Tender Napalm, in this Welsh premiere of

the acclaimed play.

 

Set amidst a landscape of desolation, a man and woman pick at the bones of

their starving relationship in a place without name or time. Matthew Bulgo and

Jannah Warlow deliver flawless performances in the two leads, delivering the

brutal poetry of the language with childish aplomb. The simplicity of the set,

which comprises of two chairs, physically liberates the actors and allows the

dialogue to ring.

 

In his opening night discussion on the play, Ridley spoke of the script

as a foray into the violent language of love – an exploration of its extremes,

where, “I could squeeze a bullet between those lips,” becomes something

akin to the everyday language of broken hearts and love tearing us apart.

This is an unapologetic and unflinching portrayal of love’s brutality. Poetry

literally runs through the piece. As the sea ebbs and flows through various

fantastical wreckages, the characters are locked in a dance of violent fantasy

and memory, where the imaginary struggles for dominance and threatens to

drown the real reason for their casting adrift – the death of their child.

Initially, the notion of the child seems as unreal as any of their flights

of fancy – a tsunami, a serpent, an alien abduction, a giant octopus. But

Ridley reels us in to the tangible sorrow of their waking dreams and nods at

their place in our own world, sometime, somewhere. The final sequence,

beautifully lit and rooted in memory, is both painfully tender and crushing.

 

This is important theatre and feels like it. See it!

 

Reviewed by Tracey Rhys

Tender Napalm by Philip Ridley

Company of Sirens (dir. Chris Durnall)

Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff



This Welsh premiere of Philip Ridley’s ‘Tender Napalm’ by Company of Sirens charts the intense but sometimes darkly comic journey of two lovers coming to terms with a tragic event.

Both roles are extremely challenging, with no hiding place for the actors. Onstage for the whole play on a stripped-down set, they are constantly on the move, constantly surprising and outdoing each other with outlandish, brutal and increasingly wild fantasies and memories. With the play completely reliant on their words and movement throughout, Matthew Bulgo and Jannah Warlow give powerful performances, completely inhabiting their unnamed characters.

There is an enjoyable playfulness in watching each lover’s inventive reaction to the other’s latest lurid fantasy, either topping it with a more extreme fantasy or else comically undercutting and undermining it. This verbal and physical contest, with its sweeping to and fro of poetic imagery, forms the structure of the play. But beneath these competing fantasies, other themes emerge as we begin to sense the lovers’ feelings of loss, grief and blame.

In the Q and A session following the first-night performance, Philip Ridley explained his desire to shine a light on the paradoxically violent language of love, in much-used romantic phrases such as ‘you tore me apart’, ‘you broke my heart’, etc. Ridley explores the stark violence of this language by replacing well-worn phrases with images of his own, such as pushing a bullet delicately between a lover’s lips.

As the play progresses, a striking transformation of the mood casts a new light on the storm we have witnessed up to that point.

The simplicity of set and plot create a feeling of unconstrained freedom, allowing the characters to transport the audience to whatever bizarre world they can invoke through words and movement. This striking production is expertly directed by Chris Durnall, with a keen sense of the timing and rhythms of Ridley’s play.