Secombe Theatre, Sutton 26 May – 11 June. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Oh dear. Inspired by Greek tragedy, this play ends up feeling more like Carry On, Don’t Lose Your Head” – but with more (unitntentional) laughs.
Edward Bond is a celebrated and respected writer, and there are glimpses of profound ideas, but it is all lost in a long (very long) evening of turgid, repetitive dialogue interrupted by escalating moments of schlock horror and violence.
The play begins looking like an AmDram production. Dea’s officer husband barks lines at her while she sits silently. The initial act of violence is the only time in the play that gasps of true shock are heard. Dea smothers her twin babies and then batters them with her stiletto heel. When her husband (who looks at least 20 years too young for the role) discovers her crime, he rapes her. This scene, although breathtakingly stilted, at least builds some tension, which is immediately shattered by the stage crew struggling to fit props through the door and jingling their keys.
The action jumps forward 18 years and the war has escalated, the asylum has been bombed, and Dea returns to her husband’s house. She meets one of her twin sons, Olly (the result of the post-murder rape) and moves in. One attempted rape, stabbing, incest and another stabbing later, Dea leaves to find her other son – a soldier. There was some dialogue, but it really didn’t make an impact amongst lots of stifled giggles.
Act 2 takes place inside an army tent. A hooded female prisoner has been brought inside and the officer is trying to extract information from her. The officer, slightly mad, is obviously the other son, so eventually Dea turns up as well. Hammering home the atrocities of war, the officer orders the men to gang rape the prisoner to get her to talk. It all gets so ridiculous that, in the dramatic climax of the scene, when gang necrophilia and a son raping his mother is taking place on stage, more giggling was heard. It was a relief when a bomb ended it all and the bar opened.
Act 3 sees Dea living in a caravan surrounded by junk and talking to the decapitated head of her officer son. A deserter from his company appears and there is some decent dialogue about sanity and peace, but any stirring hope and interest in the play is diminished when the head gets flung across the stage. The giggles started again, and while Helen Bang (the most accomplished performance on show) was trying to die with dignity in what seemed like the longest death scene ever written, shoulders were shaking all around me, and not with sobbing.
Edward Bond directed this production. It is his baby, but he has made the mistake of all overindulgent parents, ignoring its flaws and seeing greatness where there is only something barely average. In the hands of a different director, perhaps some judicious pruning and better dramaturgy could result in an interesting and provocative piece.
As it stands, Dea is an ungainly, self-indulgent, awkward sequence of brutality and boredom that is memorable for all the wrong reasons.