The heretical portraits of the faithful in Neil Labute’s early work Bash caused his Mormon community to excommunicate him from the Church of the Latter Day Saints, when it was first performed in New York in 2000.
Creating a flood of negative publicity in the US after its off-Broadway run, Bash: Latterday Plays is a modern retelling of three Greek myths, set within the Mormon culture Labute grew up in. It is a trio of deeply harrowing one act plays exploring the underbelly of human nature and the evil that lurks inside even the wholesome and godly.
In Iphigenia in Orem, a Utah businessman confides to a stranger in a Las Vegas hotel room his part in the death of his infant daughter. In A Gaggle of Saints, a young Mormon couple recount the violent events of an anniversary weekend in Manhattan and in Medea Redux, a woman tells of her relationship with her high school English teacher.
Each piece is a confessional with a terrible twist in the tail. The characters pour forth their story with such candid intensity that it’s as if the footlights are a purgative, finally enabling them to impart the vile secrets that fester in their souls. Religion may be their crutch and cross, but as products of American society, they seem more able to make sense of their lives via narratives they’ve seen on the big screen. But unlike a Hollywood movie, their stories have no happy endings.
David Sturzaker, plays the weary Utah business man who chooses to tell the circumstances of his daughter’s death to a total stranger. He has moments of perspicacity into human nature and modern day life but despite the subject matter, this is the least compelling of the three dialogues and there is something slightly contrived about the plot twist.
In A Gaggle of Saints, Harry Lloyd as John gives a tremendously powerful performance, as the preppy frat boy, whose personable exterior masks a terrifying lust for violence. His transformation from the amiable college kid into a sadistic, brutal individual is shocking and he releases a ferocity into the theatre that leaves the audience shaken. Jodie Whittaker as Sue, plays his nave college sweetheart, who turns a blind eye to her beau’s dark side.
In Medea Redux, Juliet Rylance, really inhabits the psyche of this fragile, complex woman who reeks a terrible revenge on the teacher who left her pregnant when she was just 13. She recounts her tale to a tape recorder in a police interview room. At first you presume it’s because she is testifying against him but it’s only in the final moments of her confession that you realize why she has been detained. Rylance’s is a careful, affecting study into the mind of this damaged adult-child.
Director Tamara Harvey has pulled some strong performances out of her actors but she was working with top class material to start with. Designer Rob Howell’s simple set compliments. The only adornments are two unremarkable chairs and a huge gilt framed looking glass which lines the back wall and peters out into nothing, imploring the audience to see themselves on stage and view the play as a reflection, a mirror image of the world around them.
Bash is the first production from Theatre of Memory, a new company established by Juliet Rylance and David Sturzaker and after this haunting and expertly executed debut, I cannot wait to see what else they will bring to the London stage.