The second half explodes into a realm that must point towards the sort of torture that the playwright lived through before killing herself at the age of 28, four years after writing the play.
Sean Holmes’s production for the Lyric is superb with performances of monumental bravery from the three cast members (Aidan Kelly is the soldier who bursts into the action and goes on to commit acts of unspeakable barbarity).
What leaves you reeling at the end of an intense hour and 50 minutes is not just the inhumanity portrayed but also the theatrical imagination that conjures up such an unbearable world.
A series of fleeting vignettes towards the end of the play is like a rack of jagged splinters ripped from Dante’s Inferno, imagery as potent as that of Beckett’s late, short plays. And praise for a writer doesn’t come higher than that.
This is poetry as grim and disturbing as any you’re likely to find. The extreme violence, which upset certain critics and Daily Mail readers when the Royal Court first presented the work, is all the more powerful for not being sensationalised.
It’s not a perfect play, with elements of arbitrariness and a lack of muscularity in the language, but a part of the playwright’s tragedy (and only a part) is the fact that she wasn’t able to go on and develop her talent into maturity.
This is a work that is unlikely to ever lose its power to shake an audience to the core.