Cruel and Tender
The ADC lateshow leaves KIERAN CORCORAN with a less than tragic sense of disappointment as the cruelty and tenderness treads the fine line between subtle and dull.
ADC Theatre, 2nd-5th November, 11pm, £4-6
Dir. Chloe Mashiter
I must confess this play pretty much passed me by.
Maybe my lumbering, clumsy brain isn’t cut out for the subtleties either of Crimp’s modernisation or Chloe Mashiter’s direction; but maybe yours isn’t either, so read on.
Sophocles’ Trachiniai, the play’s source-text, isn’t a quiet play. That’s all I’m going to say about it; here’s Wikipedia if you want more. I’m not convinced that Cruel and Tender is a quiet play either, but Mashiter’s is certainly a quiet production.
I can’t say with confidence whether Megan Roberts’ leading performance as military wife Amelia was marvellously nuanced in a way to which I was blind, or a tiny bit dull. Whichever it was, her rigid domesticity and well-mannered register embody the muffled suffering of the production, and her range, whether perfectly precise or just limited, set the outer bounds which were rarely, if ever, transgressed.
A couple of times, when the light was right, her eyes glistened with what might have been held-back tears, hinting at concealed depths of emotion. But these were isolated moments, and didn’t constitute enough to make me believe in her performance as a whole.
The tonal unity of the play also hampered its overall effectiveness. What could have been an appropriately Herculean shift as Amelia, quintessential feminine, disappears for suicide before the entry of her General-husband (Lawrence Bowles), was oddly muted too. For a man whom we are told thinks nothing of killing children and cutting out hearts in public, Bowles came across as pretty average, really.
I wanted an emblem of suffering, a poisoned and crippled hero.
This is what the text prepared me for and what I expected to see. But Bowles’ greatness was never manifest, and his expressions of pain were pitched more around pretty-bad-migraine than mortal agony. It felt like climbing the Acropolis to find no more than a slightly dishevelled bungalow.
This is also the second time this term I’ve been really perplexed by a tragic chorus. Allis Creavin, Matilda Wnek and Kesia Guillery are three strong performers who’ve done excellent things elsewhere, but their slightly naff interjections and occasional repetition of scraps of lines by the protagonists didn’t really add up to much.
The role that the chorus may have been intended to fill bubbled to the surface once, as the three nonchalantly knocked off from work just as the tragic shit really started to hit the fan. Their idle chat about shoes and the night ahead was a poignant counterpoint to the understated horror of the play’s interior, but if this was their purpose throughout then they struck one bullseye for an awful lot of misses.
This Cruel and Tender feels like a kind of J Alfred Prufrock tragedy, that doesn’t dare disturb the universe. But the play’s universe rather seems to want disturbing. Lines like The General’s “I have cleansed and purified the world” don’t lend themselves to understatement.
I was hoping for a play that would register on a seismograph, but the impact made by this production would be difficult to detect even with a stethoscope. This isn’t bad in itself, but unless, as an audience member, you’re willing to give a lot, you could well find yourself completely nonplussed.