The new season at The Octagon Theatre opens in fine style. Bang Bang Bang, a co-production with a range of theatres, boasts a talented international cast, complex characters and a demanding storyline.
 
Experienced humanitarian worker Sadhbh (Orla Fitzgerald) and her assistant Mathilde (Julie Dray) gather evidence of human rights abuses in the Congo. An invitation to interview a local warlord, who is one of the prime suspects, has tragic consequences.
 
The concept of a jaded veteran working with a well-meaning novice is getting past its sell-by date. Yet director Max Stafford- Clark avoids cliché and melodrama by constantly emphasising the human aspects of the humanitarian efforts. As well as the physical danger we see relationships under strain, mental heath crumbling and ideals tested. Stafford- Clark delivers a taut show and uses Andy Smith’s relentless backing music to drive the production excitingly forward and maintain the atmosphere of constant peril.
 
The nature of the production is such that it is inevitable that some of the dialogue and even the characters have to be used to make a point. Writer Stella Feehily deftly keeps this to a minimum. Her script contains powerful descriptive passages and some very disturbing scenes and the characterisation is excellent.
 
The cast cope with the challenges of Feehily's wonderful writing - including speeches in French- with style. Pena Iiyambo makes an impressive debut showing that, however deadly, young soliders remain children – they can be distracted by football. Dray’s vibrant and sexy Mathilde brings both life and idealism to a terrifying place.

Dan Fredenburgh’s tormented Stephen illustrates that coping with normal life can be just as hard as surviving physical threats. Fitzgerald suggests that, despite her maturity and courage, Sadhbh is a damaged woman who may be using the challenges of her humanitarian work to avoid emotional engagement. It is a fearless and riveting performance.
 
Bang Bang Bang is Stella Feehily’s best work to date and a great start for the new season.
 
- Dave Cunningham

(Reviewed at the Bolton Octagon)