Detritus surrounds a square area in the middle of the theatre. Atop is a canopy of wild and tangled twigs. The two protagonists, a young Man and a young Woman, silent, wary, focused, size each other up and circumnavigate the perimeter of the stage, like two wild animals ready to pounce at each other, as the audience slowly trickles in. The theatre usher closes the door and all hell breaks loose.
Philip Ridley’s play is an hour and a half of Hegelian dialectic let loose on stage. Compromise and trade-offs are out of bounds as the two actors vent great vengeance and furious anger to a degree that at times it’s almost unbearable to watch. Intense elemental energy clutches the space in a vice, anecdotes are discharged with the potency of hand grenades – but to what end?
Primordial tales of serpents and epic battles abound as Man and Woman each try to assert a past. They start off as abstractions, no names and no affiliations, just a bunch of stories that they are adamant to validate, ready to fight for with teeth and claws. And none is willing to give in an inch. We are dealing with archetypes, raw energy that needs to be moulded into a form and endorsed by an identity; and one cannot do it without taking out a hammer and an anvil and making lots of noise.
Sex and violence are the materia prima for this narrative of the self, a big bang alchemical fusion with brief moments of respite, to look at the (non-existent) view. Lucky for us, there is a great chemistry between the two actors, Bettina Paris and Andre Agius, because this is a play whose soul rests on a bed of polar tension. Creation & destruction. Love & hate. Loud & silent. Playful & violent. Cute & vile.
Which is also why Toni Attard directs Tender Napalm like a cage fight in a bedroom. Ultimately, the central character is the space itself, a vessel full of savage fecundity in which Man and Woman can re-attain a wiser, more humane Eden. Or blow the universe to smithereeens.
The beginning was the end, the end is the beginning. No compromises. No trade-offs.