Monologues are a difficult thing – too short and it’s easy to feel cheated out of admittance to a fully formed performance, but too long and it’s hard not to become apathetic to the storyteller or – even worse - just plain bored. Thankfully the monologues and duologue in Neil Labute’s Bash: Latterday Plays are so carefully constructed that neither problem is applicable – like a certain bowl of cereal in a fairytale about a golden haired house invader, every second spent in the cast’s company feels just right.
Then with a booming maelstrom of noise it begins.
Although moving from The Old Red Lion Pub to Trafalgar Studios in the West End, Labute’s production has thankfully lost none of its intimacy. The set remains bare throughout the performance except for a wooden doorway and several sawn up chairs stuck in various angles to the floor. Appearing like flailing limbs clawing up from the underworld, it’s an intriguing choice by set builder David Houghton that brings an eerie feeling to proceedings before the performances even start.
Then with a booming maelstrom of noise it begins. And goodness, are these stories dark. If you’re of a nervous disposition you might do well to bring a pillow to hide behind – this is a play that really illustrates the power the imagination can bring to a string of carefully chosen words. The tales are just the best kind of dark however – it’s Coen brothers dark, Irvine Welsh dark – everything is tinged with a soft filter of comedy, before the chaos kicks in. Labute really has a way with words and of finding the crux of a character in a very short space of time, but a lot of credit must be given to the cast for bringing these creations to life.
Whether they’re a businessman from Utah retelling a chilling incident in a Las Vegas hotel room (Philip Scott-Wallace) or a young woman remembering an overly intimate relationship with her junior high school teacher (Rebecca Hickey), each member plays their character with insight and often great subtlety. Tom Vallen’s gripping performance as a jockish, bigoted young Mormon is a particularly terrifying highlight, his bride to be’s (Dani Harrison) nervous patter running alongside only emphasizing the dominance of her fiancé. It’s powerful stuff that noticeably, when the particularly darker elements of the story are introduced, has the entire audience on tenterhooks, crucially keeping them there until the next beat, the next storyteller.
Throughout the three separate tales Labute mixes elements of Greek mythology into the specific location of Utah to weave an enigmatic tapestry around a hot and wearied America we’ve heard examples of in the news and read about in literature from Capote to Steinbeck, but never seen so up close and visceral. It’s a primal play drawing us into the hidden evils that exist all around – yet even in its darkest moments, it’s very difficult to look away.