Writer: Anthony Neilson
Director: Julia Midtgard
Reviewer: Tom Ralphs
Fear No Colours production of Anthony Neilson’s 1993 play opens with a voiceover of a porn magazine story as Max reads it and masturbates. When he finishes and his flat mate Alan returns, he has to, quickly and awkwardly, hide the magazine. It sounds like a bleak reconstruction of Men Behaving Badly, and the Loaded magazine culture that defined the time, but it soon veers into far darker territory when Max’s friend Tadge arrives unannounced.
Tadge has just left the army, with a payout that may have been £80,000 or may have been far smaller. The inconsistencies in his initial story are the least disturbing thing about him, as he reveals his abuse by the Penetrators. It may be the truth, or it may be the result of exposure to the horrors of war. The only thing Max and Alan can be certain of is that there is something seriously wrong with Tadge.
Penetrator is partly a psycho-drama about the effects of war on young soldiers, but at a deeper level it explores the loss of innocence and passing of childhood, with an ending that is unsettling because of how understated it is.
Tom White gives a fantastically unhinged performance as Tadge, with vacant stares hinting at the mental trauma that is fully revealed when he speaks. Chris Duffy and Matt Roberts are convincing as slackers Max and Alan, but don’t quite up their game enough to convey the full sense of terror that’s needed when Tadge’s paranoia takes over.
The decision to update some, but not all, of the plays reference points also seems odd, neither routing the play in one period or giving it a feeling of timelessness, but overall this is a strong production that captures the subtleties lurking beneath Neilson’s ‘in-yer-face’ dialogue.
Runs until 12 August 2017 | Image: Contributed