— Production photo
Twenty Something Theatre’s production of Philip Ridley’s Tender Napalm is a sexy 90-minute two-hander starring Claire Hesselgrave as Woman and Sean Harris Oliver as Man. Through a non-linear journey that traces the details of an aging relationship, Hesselgrave and Harris Oliver embody animals, share UFO stories, fight each other and love each other, all through contemporary choreography. Their bodies tell the story of how to build and lose love through the most extreme situations.
“Have you seen the view?” is a repeated line that helps situate the audience in the memories and stories that the characters have experienced. Time in their world does not flow in a linear manner from A to B, showing the happy progress of a couple’s relationship. Instead, choreographer Joel Sturrock has devised extremely detailed and highly emotional transitions from one memory to the next. Through one character’s narration and the other’s physicalization, we are presented with a tight, fast-paced and stylistically romantic sketch of how the couple met, how they fell in love, how they fell out of love… and where they are now. Particularly striking about Hesselgrave and Harris Oliver’s performance is the way they have cultivated an emotionally stimulating realistic acting style and apply it to such an embodied and quickly shifting full-length piece.
Director Sabrina Evertt stages Tender Napalm alley-style with the action on a bare floor and the audience sitting facing each other. There are no set pieces or props. The show is heavy on lighting changes from red to blue floods, and ambient music and sound by Julie Casselman. The staging creates an added layer of intimacy as we are not reminded by painted sets or scene changes that we are watching a performance. In its place, the body and voices of the actors draw us in to figure out where we are in their love story and how they got there. The use of onomatopoeia adds to the physicalization as words like “boom” and “splash” help build the destructive and hectic relationship that these two people share.
Tender Napalm is an energetic and emotionally stimulating love story that defies time, place and space—as all true love should—and invites the audience to experience a playfully cruel trip down lovers’ lane.