The Courtyard Theatre, Hoxton
After making it safely home from seeing Extremities tonight, I checked that the door was locked about five times. This is something the protagonist, Marjorie (played with credibility by Angela Bull) had neglected to do as she faffs around the house in her dressing gown, idling the morning away painting nails and the like. An awful punishment is visited on her for this lax behaviour in door locking.
Moments after the play begins a slightly unnerving chap (John Schumacher, playing Raul, although he's thereafter only referred to as Animal) sticks his head round her door and asks for Joe. Upon a firm and sensible rebuttal that 'there's no Joe here', he changes tack and asks to use the phone. On being refused, Animal gets angry, unexpectedly locking himself in, smashing the phone and suddenly the stage events to follow portend very bleakly for our heroine, Marjorie.
The opening twenty minutes of this play are the most unpleasantly violent, savage and frightening I have ever witnessed. Animal relentlessly, with an agreesive, wild and insatiable sexual energy, attacks Marjorie and begins forcing her to perform sexual acts against her will. It is horrible to watch. As he forces himself on her, she manages to grab a can of wasp repellent (handily referenced earlier in the plot) and sprays the contents in Animal's face.
There is then a blackout. It is the first of many. When the lights come up, Marjorie has tied up her attacker and has him under her control. The remainder of the play deals with the fall-out of this situatio: what happens when her friends return, whose side they take, how far a victim can go to protect themselves before it becomes revenge, the irrevocable joining of the victim and the attacker in the shared identity branded on them by the act.
There is more cold-blooded violence to follow, the sort that shows why it is that victims are not allowed to discipline the perpetrators; to avoid cruel and unusual punishment. Marjorie pushes us to the limit of sympathy, but Animal's previous pleasure in twisted perversion and disregard for her consent add weight to her 'righteous' anger.
Extremities has a driving, visceral plot, two central characters who are well drawn, who show a depth of pain and anger and occasional flashes of black humour that shoot through the terse and no-holds-barred script. The play also has two other characters, the housemates, who are surprisingly strong and add a great deal of enjoyment, realism and perspective on the events, as well as the odd laugh here and there. Hannah Dean as Terry is at once sweet and bitter, casual and on the edge and a great foil to the uptight, perfectly pitched Kas Darley playing Pat.
Robert Stuart, the director, has chosen a tough play to take the helm of; so much violence in an intimate space has to be judged precisely in order to avoid sniggers or injury to the actors. His real gift lies in keeping the audience engaged once the battleground moves from the physical actions to the dialogue and this he does with skill and subtlety. It is hard to watch Animal wheedle his way into the minds of the friends or to see Marjorie, who fought so bravely for her freedom, unable to stop herself from fighting on and becoming the Animal herself.
The ending is extremely neat, almost too neat, one suspects, for the real life that the writer purports to portray. A chance discovery proves Animal to be so perverted, dangerous and inhuman that the understanding we have gained of him is turned on its head and leaves everyone with no doubt as to his intentions or capabilities.
Extremities aims to be a particular victim's answer to her rapist. Scary, disturbing and brutal, the play succeeds from the point of view of one victim, Marjorie. However, I doubt that all victims would care to be defined by her revenge.
"Extremities" plays until 27th March 2011 at The Courtyard Theatre