If you're feeling a bit low avoid this like the plague, because it's one rusty razorblade of a double-bill. It'll flay your spirits and strip away your joy.
Director Dan Ayling recaptures the supercharged intensity he brought to Howard Brenton's Christie in Love last year as he couples three pieces from Mark Ravenhill's 16-play war sequence with the post-7/7 trilogy Eschara by Phillip Whiteman, a talented young polymath who is also one of the evening's four performers.
Ravenhill is first up, and we are plunged unceremoniously into the harrowing darkness of Crime and Punishment, a tale set in an occupied Middle-Eastern country that depicts one soldier's broken-minded cruelty towards a defenceless widow. This is followed by a deceptively bright start to the blackly comic Paradise Lost, where the versatile actress Daphne Kouma sheds her hijab from the previous play and becomes a free-spirited Liver lass accidentally caught up in anti-terrorism.
These are two well-written pieces, but the third of the trilogy is a little masterpiece. Fear and Misery is an intimate domestic drama that twists into a study of urban paranoia and the scarring effects of conflict on the collective psyche of an ordinary family. Whiteman and Lindesay Mace slug it out for all it's worth, which is quite a bit.
The Eschara trilogy that follows offers a more unified experience. These lightly connected playlets (Pandemonium, Bedlam and Renaissance) all speculate on the psychological effects that might ensue over time in the wake of a terrorist attack.
Phillip Whiteman's ear and imagination are both keen, and his writing has punch, but the decision to couple these three plays with the earlier trio only serves to highlight a mismatch of quality between the two playwrights. Whereas Ravenhill's dialogue is wrenched from the very guts of his characters, Whiteman's people are merely mouthpieces for his ideas. As a consequence, Eschara is more memorable for Ayling's visceral presentation than for the power of what lies within.
As an actor, though, Whiteman is a compelling talent. His four roles (two either side of the interval) dominate the evening, despite fierce – in every sense – competition from Kouma, Mace and the accomplished Graeme John. With his dramatic range and striking good looks, an exciting career beckons.
Dan Ayling too confirms that he is a director to watch, and these six playlets are a formidable showcase for his talents. Not that anyone's likely to emerge cheering from this strongly designed (by Rhiannon Newman Brown), superbly lit (by Sally Ferguson) wrist-slitter of an evening. - Mark Valencia