Thu 3rd – Sat 12th August 2017


Neil Suchak

at 11:04 on 11th Aug 2017



The synopsis of 'Penetrator' evokes an anticipation of a bleak and harrowing exploration of sexuality and masculinity but these are expectations that the show only just manages to lives up to. It is dark and bleak, presenting an unnerving depiction of sexualised psychosis. However, it is let down by certain notable flaws that mean it falls short of fulfilling all that it promises.

This production sees Anthony Neilson’s early exposition of ‘in-yer-face’ theatre undergo some cultural renovation and updating by the Fear No Colours Theatre. The play charts the explosive impact of the re-emergence of old friend Tadge (played by Tom White) into the lives of friends Max and Alan (played respectively by Chris Duffy and Tom Roberts). The already curious relationship of the two friends takes a dark turn when Tadge turns up at the door telling sexually graphic and conspiratorial tales of his military discharge.

'Penetrator' offers a revealing and dark insight into the nature of manhood and friendship. Sex and sexuality have a clear part to play in this; however, a surprising theme was the recurring importance of teddy bears. For instance, Alan is desexualised not only for his inability to find a girlfriend, but also his devotion to his bear. Conversely, Max retains his masculinity through loutish behaviour and Tadge through aggression. There is thus a strong undercurrent of homophobia that runs through each character and this proves to be a fascinating motif as the plot twists reveal themselves and the audience learns more of each character’s past.

The production is carried by strong performances from each of the three actors, chief among them Tom White and his portrayal of Tadge. The talent of White in playing someone so unhinged makes the audience exceedingly thankful that the fourth wall exists. His ability to intensely fix his death stare upon the middle distance makes the sense of danger palpable - with the audience fearing that the actors are not the only one’s at risk of his wrath. Duffy's quick and cutting use of Scottish slang and vulgar imagery propels what could have been a slow first fifteen minutes. Roberts seems to be less at ease, however he comes into his own in the more serious second half of the play, where he sharply conveys a sense of complicated anger and fear.

However, despite distinctly positive performances, the play was beset with certain, critical flaws. Anthony Neilson’s inclusion of intermittent musical interludes and detuned, computerised voiceovers - which were seemingly taken out of a seemingly pornographic script - leave the audience more confused than anything. While this may not be the fault of the production itself, the execution of these did little to make clear their dramatic significance. The most egregious issue to be taken was one of basic production and stage management that meant that the audience were largely seated adjacent to the stage - peering in at the action from the side. Thus in a play with scenes of such tense action, half the audience is left looking at the back of an actors head. Sadly this was enough to detract from acting performances that were haunting yet riveting and inhibited the true poignancy of the play.


Elena Casale

at 11:55 on 11th Aug 2017



A raspy, subhuman voice-over pierces the initial darkness bellowing lines from a visceral porno. The sexual narrative evolves to become more and more violent: ‘Her nipples were like big, stiff strawberries’… ‘Fuck my brains out’… ‘I want you to shoot me’. The light turns on to reveal a youngish, druggy Max, bent over masturbating. After ejaculation, he stares at the semen in his hand as if in a trance. ‘Penetrator‘ is vulgar, and it is dangerous.

This first scene sets the tone for the rest of the play, though consequent moments aren’t quite so visually explicit. Alan’s innocuous teddy bears lie at the periphery and are thrown into relief at pertinent points of the script. They are torn, thrown around and abused, and so in turn are each of the three male protagonists.

The play exposes an overly sexualized world where masculinity is portrayed as simultaneously infantile and violent. While Max is enthused by the concept of making Alan’s bears have sex, Alan is diametrically opposed: ‘they’re part of the family’. To this, Max only replies: ‘You’re too sentimental’. The play revolves around sex, and it is frequently used to cover the cracks in friendships. At an awkward pause in conversation with Alan, Max remarks: ‘Pete is selling his jizzum for fifty quid a shot!’. Similarly, Tadge only laughs with Max when describing explicit sexual experiences: describing a soldier masturbating into a flask, or how he ‘shagged two thirteen year olds.’

The play implies underlying homosexual tensions between the men. Tadge’s ominous comments to Alan such as ‘you lost weight? Suits you’ are responded with an awkward laugh. This reaches a peak when Tadge asks Alan to help him demonstrate what the Penetrators did to him . Later, Tadge reconstructs the moment he helped Max masturbate for the first time. The only medium for this latent sexuality is violence, however: ‘you’d like me to fuck you like a dog!’ screams Tadge whilst holding Alan at knife-point.

In fact, the production as a whole is rife with latent meaning. Beneath the surface, the gestures to broader political themes are intermittent and short-lived. We come head to head with Max’s ingrained sexism (‘Women use men’ ), the suggestion that ‘when you join the army you lose the right to be treated like a normal person’, and the desensitization of violence, such as when Max jokingly asks Tadge what he did in the army - ‘did you meet new people, blow their brains out and all that?’

Tom White’s rendition of Tadge was quietly electric, on the edge all the time and then suddenly explosive. So to were Austin Low’s sound designs, such as the ominous voice-over and randomized musical exerpts. Set design, however, was distinctly flawed. Though the sofa was the perfect site for exploring the rapid shifts between claustrophobia and intimacy, having the audience split either side of it meant a compromised view.

Unfortunately, the production was somewhat stripped of its potential for humor, and the last scene, though signalling a meaningful shift in Maxs’ character development by telling Tadge to stop talking about sex, is uneventful. The lights dim, nostalgic music plays: the end is disappointing. It doesn’t do justice to the power of earlier scenes, where the explorations of trauma, sex and masculinity are often piercing.


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