If Destroyed Still True @ Tobacco Factory Theatre, Bristol.

Review by Regina Papachlimitzou

If Destroyed Still True is the culmination of two years work by performance company Sedated by a Brick. Performed in the intimate space of The Brewery Theatre in Bristol, the play presents its audience with a genuinely bizarre exploration of guilt, loss and denial.

The play opens with a series of tableaux vivants of what could be interpreted as a murder scene. Two characters, a man and a woman, lie motionless on the floor; a third character ineffectively tries to breathe life into their lungs, then sits them around a desolate dining table and tries forcing them to drink tea. When the figures eventually do come to life, the play spirals into an absurdist nightmare with strong Freudian overtones.

The costume changes point to a parental link between the two previously inanimate figures and the third character: this is heightened by the oedipal nature of the ensuing interactions, a sensual violent dance with the female figure and a life-threatening scuffle with the male figure. As the play progresses, it becomes gradually more apparent that we are caught in what is on the surface a murder story dealing with guilt and horror –but, underlying that, is a daring exploration of the Freudian proposition of the love and death instincts, and how they relate to our experience of loss and the inevitable self-accusation that accompanies it.

Scenes of raw and terrifying intensity alternate with scenes imbued with breathtaking pathos. A prolonged scene sees the main character attempt to destroy the physical evidence of the murder by wrapping everything up in bin-liners (this works expertly in the Brewery, as the black bags blend into the background provided by the black wall). With calculated frenzy he places the now lifeless figures onto chairs, and pulls bin-liners over them too. Yet their hands and lower limbs morbidly stick out from underneath, a reminder that eliminating the physical aspect of a tragedy will categorically not make its essence go away.

There is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing in the play, perhaps as a means of representing the cyclical nature of introspection: the way in which, in attempting to make sense of the events leading up to a personal loss, we end up running around in circles in our mind, trying to apportion or deny blame. The tables are turned (several times) as the main character’s guilt intensifies. The tension between the parental figures mounts, and their struggle for dominance finds the terrified and silenced child figure caught in the middle between them. Much is implied in the course of the play, but nothing is ever confirmed. Who is truly guilty? What crime, if any, has been committed? No straight answers are given. The yarn of the story is eventually eaten up by the characters (figuratively and even, at one point, literally) in an unashamed admission of incoherence and inconclusiveness –qualities which, of course, are perennially present in real life too.

Throughout, the performance is accentuated by a strong undercurrent of impending disaster, a feeling that the characters are walking a tightrope stretched above the dark abyss of human tragedy. This atmosphere would be unbearable if not intermittently broken by moments of odd humour, bordering on slapstick. The performances by Fraisia Dunn, Gareth Mayer and Neil Puttick are unwaveringly captivating, as all three actors maintain a truly admirable level of intensity in their performance throughout the evening. Although on occasion the sheer physicality of the action can become unbearable, there is an unusual honesty about the whole piece which makes If Destroyed Still True a unique achievement.

If your preferences lie with more traditional approaches to theatre, you might struggle to enjoy If Destroyed Still True; if, however, you enjoy all-out, adventurous, highly physical explorations of the medium, you will not be disappointed by this play.

If Destroyed Still True continues at Tobacco Factory Theatre, Bristol until Saturday 12 March. For more information and tickets please visit www.tobaccofactorytheatre.com Box Office: 0117 902 0344

Image courtesy of Carl Newland