EFR - Reviews of Damned

Damned

Sun 18th – Mon 26th August 2013

reviews

Lise McNally

at 01:38 on 21st Aug 2013

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Jack Harrison’s new play bravely renounces any attempt at a discernible plot: questions, not answers, are the driving force of the drama. I’m damned if I know what it is about, but it is a truly intriguing piece of absurdist theatre.

The script is first and foremost a vehicle for character, and the central duo prove themselves admirable hosts. Dave Reeson’s portrayal of Halteg is extremely polished and powerful, with a magnificent vocal energy and the ability to lend telling import to the smallest gesture. A veneer of total self-possession is delicately assaulted, as bulged veins and tiny repeated routines hint of the danger behind his insistent logic and intellectual curiosity. Likewise, Rik Baker’s Etranger is utterly captivating: a working jaw, wide eyes, and undulating vocal performance perfectly walks the line between a childlike dependant and a blossoming master of his own thoughts.

The dialogue between the two is rapid yet easy to follow, falling into verbal routines which distort and evolve in a fascinating series of exchanges. Buzz words provide enough of a plot to leave the audience truly engaged, and questions of time are a particularly effective motif: a handless clock at the back of the stage provides a perfect semantic void as, unable to gain a firm sense of temporal reality, the two talk of shifts and urgently try to guess whether an awaited event is early or late. Between the stimulating dialogue and engaging characterisation, you certainly won’t sneak a glance at your own watch.

Fin Boyter’s performance is perhaps a little less immersive than the rest of the cast—his Ansteg too self-consciously performative. This might well be a directorial decision, a deliberate aspect of his characterisation as the in-text experimentor. After all, Boyter proves himself an able physical performer—his languid grace bubbles over brilliantly as he cavorts around the stage—it’s only his vocal performance which has an oddly rehearsed quality. But whether the detail is down to actor or director, it rather interrupts the suspension of disbelief which the rest of the performance invites so completely.

The sparse set and unobtrusive use of sound works well and adds to the dream-like absorption which the show invokes. While the play itself is difficult to interpret, the marvelous efforts of the four actors and the stunning workings of the script are all too easy to appreciate. Go and try to work it out for yourself.

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Joshua Phillips

at 02:18 on 21st Aug 2013

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Jack Harrison’s ‘Damned’ takes its cue most noticeably from Beckett, not only his earlier and better-known dramas, ‘Waiting for Godot’ and ‘Endgame’, but also from what Beckett called his ‘dramaticules’, short but potent pieces which show the sheer power that can be attained through the bare minimum of language. Which is not to say that Harrison’s script is in any way derivative: rather, it is a sensitive and original exploration of the issues of language, control and power that occupied Absurdist playwrights such as Beckett and Pinter.

What first grabs you in ‘Damned’ is the language; the real subject of the play. The opening dialogue between Etranger (Rik Baker) and Halteg (Dave Reeson) is sinuous and snaking, doubling back on itself constantly and punning relentlessly, exploring every possibility, every nuance, every angle of what is being said. This dialogue is delivered perfectly by Baker and Reeson. Reeson plays Halteg, a barking bureaucrat obsessed by reason, logic and his own unshakeable sense of superiority. Baker, as Etranger, plays a scuttling, stuttering Pozzo to Halteg’s Lucky, and is kept firmly under the thumb of his master through a combination of inescapable pedantry and mundane tasks – to visit the supply store day in, day out, and to watch for a balloon. Halteg can only think, but not feel; Etranger cannot think, but can only feel. When the balloon comes, their shift will be over but in the meantime, Etranger must do his job, Halteg takes it upon himself to “improve” Etranger, and they must entertain one another.

This set-up iterates and reiterates itself over and over again, varying slightly each time as Halteg’s control is slowly prised away from him by Ansteg, Halteg’s talkative right-hand man, played by Finn Boyter, and by Etranger’s imaginary butler (Alec Walker), who both put in increasingly powerful performances as they struggle to pull Etranger away from his servile devotion to Halteg. They try to teach him what Halteg refuses to, to imagine, and to imagine a different way of being.

‘Damned’ is a superlative piece of theatre, one that strips the mechanisms by which language holds sway over people, right down to its very bones, laying bare the sheer power that words have over people. One of Beckett’s more famous lines is the one that opens ‘Waiting for Godot’, “Nothing to be done” - ‘Damned’ invites us to imagine an alternative to this imperative, one that prizes imaginative freedom above all else.

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