This week the charming Barons Court Theatre (at the Curtains Up Pub) in leafy W14, cheek by jowl with Queen's Club, plays host to Bash, a disturbing trilogy by uncompromising American dramatist Neil LaBute. Four outwardly All-American characters reveal themselves and their dark secrets to us in an evening made all the more uncomfortable by their own apparent respectability and the comfort of our surroundings.
LaBute's own background in the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) is inescapable, but don't expect Mitt Romney to be calling on him for endorsement as the Presidential election looms. These plays led to La Bute’s expulsion from the Church and, he has said, played their part in the breakdown of his marriage.
In Iphigenia in Orem, James Le Feuvre presents us with a man confessing his sins to a stranger he has literally picked out at random in a hotel lobby. So striking is the writing and the performance that as an individual member of the audience one soon feels riveted to one's seat as the confessor. Although these plays were written over a decade ago, pre-Lehman Brothers, there is a topicality to the events that are used as excuses for the dreadful deed that is revealed to us. And although there is one central evil deed, there are plenty of twists, turns and genuine surprises along the way. In addition, you'll see one of the neatest "wine drunk by an invisible actor" turns this year.
Le Feuvre dominates the stage with authority and he easily embraces the audience, which surrounds him on three sides. It would be easy to feel removed from the action in such a setting but Le Feuvre and his director, Olivia Rowe, overcome this with ease. They also pace "the reveal" very adeptly and one never loses the sense that, somehow, this is an ordinary and respectable man led to extraordinary and remarkable actions. Only as the play ends do you realise the full horror and understand that you've been carried along with the apparently rational explanations, thus making the audience complicit.
A Gaggle of Saints again shows us respectability and good old American values in John and Sue, up in New York for a Ball. They reveal to us their own takes on their shared past and how they come to be together. As their weekend progresses so we see John's true colours come into focus, heavily influenced and informed by his Mormon background (as are all four characters in this evening's trilogy). This leads to another truly shocking event, made laughable and more frightening in equal measure by one of his companions' efforts to "sanctify" their actions. But when Le Feuvre steps into his own account of a brutal evening in Central Park, A Gaggle of Saints really comes alive. Here - as throughout the evening - LeFeuvre perfectly judges the pitch of performance in this intimate space, creating an act of huge savagery in minute, horrendous detail.
Medea Redux transports us to an indeterminate institution where a young lady is confessing her own disturbing tale. In saintly institutional white, Faye Winter has a look of Jodie Foster about her and it is as if Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter have reversed roles. Although this woman's actions are not on the scale of Lecter's, she nonetheless brings her own logic to explain her horrendous deeds. Suffice to say, having been seduced and abandoned (with child) by her early teens, she seeks a revenge that is complete in its effect upon her oppressor but only at huge personal cost.
LaBute presents his performers with tautly and graphically written monologues to which James Le Feuvre and Faye Winter do great justice. There seems an inevitability that they are at their best when delivering their own monologues in which they create and maintain their own rhythms and pace. In A Gaggle of Saints, where their two monologues dance around each other and dovetail, their rhythms are a little more difficult to match and maintain. In the shadow of Queen's it is as though we have seen a couple of expert singles players who haven't quite mastered the subtleties of doubles, resulting in a few dropped shots and miss-hits. No doubt the telepathy required for doubles will come with more matches.
Trust that the deeds at the core of Bash are truly evil and surprising (scholars of Euripides may already be making some assumptions). Detail has only been omitted here in order to retain the surprise should you visit the production, which I would suggest you do. The pieces, the performances and the venue all deserve our patronage.