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Beyond Flesh & Blood

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
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Entering the auditorium, the set-up could not be clearer. Fragmented images of a tree and two giant, tortured eyes are accompanied by a shattered female voice intoning a Dies Irae of unimaginable anguish. The themes of Beyond Flesh and Blood are vividly etched even before the houselights have dimmed.

After such a promising augury the play itself proves to be thin stuff. Playwright Jason Charles's theme is that tired theatrical cliché, the inner voice made flesh. The subject of a thousand improvs, it takes an Ayckbourn or a Peter Nichols to fashion drama of substance from a convention that too easily degenerates into tiresome hectoring – as it does here.

Charles's woman in mind is timid, troubled Christina, played with vulnerability and gamine charm by Rhona Marlene. She lives an isolated existence but is by no means alone, plagued as she is by her brazen alter ego, Eva, and by the guilt-inspiring presence of her God-fearing late father. Then there is Locust, a young man from the real world… or is he really another ghost, and are his designs on Christine darker than they at first appear?

The enigmatic depiction of this second tortured soul is the play's saving grace, especially in Colin Reed's grim-faced portrayal. Do his own complexities reside in him, or are they are a stray splinter floating around within Christina's own fractured psyche? Refreshingly, we must decide for ourselves.

Other-Me and Daddy are a different matter. Joanna King and Steve O'Toole spend most of the play hovering behind Christina, bickering and pulling her mind hither and yon via dialogue of the clunkiest banality. "It's only your insanity keeping you sane" pronounces one of the apparitions towards the play's end; but it's the merciful 50-minute running time that does it for the rest of us.

The Hungarian director Balazs Robert Suda makes his English-language debut with this production. His biography proclaims a specialism in neo-expressionistic staging and physical theatre, but evidence of the former is confined to colour-coded costumes (scarlet for the wanton woman; black for dead Dad... you get the picture) while the latter merely extends to a bit of leg-splaying from the lascivious Eva. Perhaps the play stifled Suda's creativity.

There's a voice in my head that chides me for undervaluing this well-intentioned enterprise. But there's a second, louder one in there too and, dear reader, for all its faults it has your best interests at heart.

- Mark Valencia


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