Poena 5X1

How can hell be liberal and forgiveness be punishment? Contradictions like these are part of the challenge of this provocative piece of writing and performance.

Poena 5x1 is not a play for all tastes, but definitely a worthwhile, well-crafted and thought-provoking play

The premise is simple, if you buy it: we are listening to a report on a drug that has been developed as a “humane” punishment or deterrent. The implication is it’s going to be used on terrorists as well as the test subjects who have already received it, who were criminals supposedly having shown signs of repentance.

One woman talks to us from the stage, as if we are government officials in the know, so already there’s a lot of information and context to be parsed by reading between the lines. This is done skilfully through the various reveals hidden in the script, dropped at the appropriate time and containing a few surprises. The trick is to keep us in suspense as well as fulfill the semblance of an official presentation. Some poetic licence is taken here too which means it’s not always seamless. Personally, I’d rather have the poetry and besides, not everything is as it seems here.

The content of the show is firmly up-to-date, political as well as moral and philosophical, going straight for the jugular from the chilling opening tale about John “Jack Black” Pershing’s pig’s blood deterrent for Muslim terrorists in the Philippines, in the early twentieth century. Ethical dilemmas over punishment are stripped bare and Cathy Conneff does an outstanding job of portraying the scientist, Bryony Adams, who is struggling to resolve these conflicts.

Punishment and rehabilitation, deterrent and empathy, love and hate, are all laid bare in this show. The austere set, the lights and the otherworldly music all create the skewed atmosphere of a dream, or a nightmare, and we’re unsure of what’s really going on for a lot of the time. Free will goes unmentioned in the world evoked here, a world governed by shadowy officials and market values as well as these consciousness-manipulating drugs.

Poena 5x1 is not a play for all tastes. Nonetheless this is definitely a worthwhile, well-crafted and thought-provoking play. 

Reviews by Fiona Mossman

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The Blurb

Or How I Came To Agree With Right Wing Thinking. 'Profit always simplifies things. It appeals to the simple.’ Sex, politics and the power of love: brilliant, provocative Scandi noir thriller from Northern Ireland's multi award-winning Abbie Spallen: Pumpgirl, Strandline, Lally the Scut (Irish Play of the Year, Irish Times, December 2015). World premiere. 'Very accomplished and exciting' (Orla O’Loughlin, Traverse Artistic Director). Directed by Offie Award finalist Robert Shaw: Mark Ravenhill’s Product, Assembly 2014; **** (Times, Time Out, WhatsOnStage.com, 21 more). 'Robert Shaw’s production is a little gem' (Aleks Sierz, Stage).