Friday, September 28, 2012

Tender Napalm - Suddenly Awesome [*]

Despite being excellent in all aspects and a solid piece of theatre, I didn't think much of Tender Napalm for the first twenty minutes or so since it didn't make me feel anything - perhaps it's because it takes a while to get into how the language of the text. But suddenly something just makes you like it.

Bailey looking buff and Phelen looking like Barack Obama -
thankfully they're adorable in real life (Source: La Boite).
Presented by both the Brisbane Festival and La Boite, David Berthold's staging of the production is replete with Garry Stewart's fluid choreography. The stories of Tender Napalm are told through a man and a woman who are in a state of grief. To escape their reality, they reminisce on their past and invent fantasies which involve unicorns, sea serpents and monkeys who have the ability to make conscious and coherent decisions on allegiances. It's a really well constructed script where multiple narratives, some deeply personal others ridiculously fantastical, run simultaneously to an ultimate revelation in a text thats replete with motifs of words, objects and ideas.

To describe the two actors simply, they're beautiful. Every line is accompanied by a decisive and emotional movement which is packed with energy. Garry Stewart's choreography incredibly really helps create an unusual performance which the pair bring to life through their enthusiasm. Despite looking like Barack Obama on the promotional artwork, Kurt Phelan is delightful to watch, his characterization being very animated and pretty adorable. Ellen Bailey's portrayal seems perplexing and is initially restrained and distant until a split second at the end where she breaks and you glimpse the most harrowing expression of agony. Prior to this the portrayal feels very individualized, but then this moment pops up and the entire performance suddenly makes a bargain with your brain and it all makes sense. Their chemistry seems to be a bit lacking, but like all the aspects in the show, it takes a while for us to buy into what they're doing. They're both really endearing though, and the party scene was perfect (although it feels like there need to be more pauses).
The perfect moment. I love anguish.
(Source: La Boite Facebook).

The technical aspects are pretty minimal because the action revolves entirely around the words of the characters. The lighting can't do much except illuminate Justin Nardella's daunting but gorgeous stage. The stage is clean with chain grids over exits which seems to evoke confrontation although there didn't seem to be a correlation between how it impacted the narrative. Steve Toulmin greets you into the theatre with this awesome piece comprised of percussive beats and sampling it sounds like something straight out of The Banquet - loved it. I wanted more music, but it was really difficult to see where it could have been without pandering the audience.

If you have any reservations, something about this play just makes you like it and it's suddenly awesome. Although they're not the best combination I've seen on stage, there are two very dedicated, talented and entertaining performers on stage. The text is really clever and sophisticated and the tech is just enough and exactly what it needs to be. I think this would really appeal to lovers of theatre with movement, and is the best thing I've seen in the Brisbane Festival. A solid 5 ½ out of 7.

Tickets for Brisbane Festival and La Boite's Tender Napalm are $220-$54, and is showing at La Boite Theatre Company's Roadhouse Theater until October 13th. Duration of approximately 80 minutes. Book by visiting La Boite's website.


  1. Awesome review, pretty much sums up what I thought of the piece too.

  2. Are you aware that your boyfriend is looking for casual sex and relationships on dating website with women and men?