“Penetrator” at The Hope Theatre

Sensitive souls may not welcome the return of ‘in-yer-face’ theatre – writing marked by hothouse aggression and surreal shock tactics – but this revival of Anthony Neilson’s 1994 play, from director Phil Croft, shows the genre has intelligent admirers. The cast is remarkably strong – with two exciting professional debuts – and the work feels smack up to date.

A couple of “waster” friends obsessed with porn and drugs are enough to make anyone middle-aged feel as old as the hills. Their foul language and crass observations are exhausting. And the presence of stuffed toys in such a sex-mad environment initiates some particularly gross scenarios. When an old friend, Tadge, returns from the army in a distressed and delusional state, the comedy darkens impressively: to say that this blood-stained arrival is “off his nut” is delivered as a marvellous understatement. The trauma that unfolds is tautly delivered and thought provoking.

Ambiguous sexuality is only one part of the confusion gripping this strange trio: the characters are deliberate exaggerations. And yet Alexander Pardey and Jolyon Price (pictured) both impress, with youthful bluster and insecurities that remain recognisable.
Tadge brings grim conspiracies of sexual violence with him and a paranoid feast ensues. Neilson’s script balances violence and comedy brutally, Croft guarantees tension and Tom Manning performs so magnificently that I was genuinely concerned.

Tawdry and full of fragility, Penetrator is truly pathetic by the end. The writing is strong enough to generate a good deal of sympathy for the teddy bears, let alone these lost characters. Neilson depicts masculinity as infantilised but, more importantly, indicates the consequences of this and the pain that ensues.

Until 22 August 2015