“Tender Napalm”: Difficult to Watch and Impossible to Look Away


Witnessing intimacy between two people can make you feel uneasy. Not necessarily because you think it is something that you are not supposed to see, but because you automatically put yourself into the equation. We’ve all experienced moments in time that we remember fondly, but we also have moments in time that we would like to forget, some we would even pay money to forget. So, when we see a similar moment exhibited between two people, especially strangers, it can cause discomfort.

The story of Tender Napalm is rather difficult to describe; for the first ten minutes you are a little confused and kind of uncomfortable. The moment the show starts, the audience is thrown into the chaos and cruelty of an already deteriorating relationship. The underlying anger and resentment between the man and woman is clearly felt by the audience and it is almost jarring. Listening to their conversation is like watching a tennis match, their verbal jabs rallying back and forth, back and forth. Between these utterances of disdain for each other, there a moments of absolute tenderness between the man and woman. You can see they are still very much in love but the pain and torment of something has become too much for them to overcome.

Philip Ridley’s play skilfully portrays the evolution and nuances of a loving, but flagging relationship. At some points it was almost difficult to watch because of how truthfully it was being explored. The impact of the story was significantly impacted by the captivating performance of Claire Hesselgrave (Woman), who effortlessly displayed the emotional tug of war her and her partner were embroiled in. The character is vulgar, sexy, spiteful, playful, innocent and, of course, vulnerable, but none of these characteristics are ugly, they are actually quite beautiful. Hesselgrave manages to embody all of these features naturally and transforms the Ridley’s written words into a person that is wholly relatable. Simply, Hesselgrave is bewitching to watch.

The intimate nature of Havana Theatre lends itself quite well to Ridley’s play. Arranged so that two rows of seats are on opposite sides of the room, the actors end up being in the middle of the audience. That said, due to the intense physicality and movement involved in the performance, you feel you may accidentally trip one of the actors. In addition, the volume of the actors voices sometimes became too much. While I understand that the dialogue may have required the actors to shout, the booming nature of Sean Harris Oliver’s (Man) voice overshadowed his performance at certain points.

Tender Napalm is an intense and intimate portrayal of how love can be the best, and worst, experience you will endure. In the end, most of us are willing to take that risk, which is why Tender Napalm is both difficult to watch and impossible to look away from.

Twenty Something Theatre’s presentation of Tender Napalm is playing at Havana Theatre until November 8th. For ticket information: http://tickets.theatrewire.com/shows/tender%20napalm/events