The Terrible Things I've Done

Alan Harris
Invisible Ink
Chapter, Cardiff

Francois Pandolfo Credit: Jorge Lizalde
Hannah McPake Credit: Jorge Lizalde
Lynn Hunter Credit: Jorge Lizalde

More than two years on from its inaugural production, an adaptation of Angela Carter's The Magic Toyshop, Invisible Ink, the company formed by writer Alan Harris and director Sita Calvert-Ennals, has returned with an original show which is similarly darkly-themed.

The Terrible Things I’ve Done is partially derived from a research process in which members of the public were invited to contribute to a confidential, secular confessional.

This tone continues in the run-up to the performance: attendees are encouraged to “confess” in a booth in the venue’s foyer; and in the performance space the actors interact with the audience, genially enquiring about sins they may have committed. Meanwhile, the sound system plays recordings of people admitting to various misdemeanours.

Presently, the cast take their places on Rebecca Wood’s deceptively simple set, which seems at first to consist solely of a large wooden block; but this actually comprises a number of components (akin to three-dimensional Tetris pieces; an ingenious construction by Seeber and Lloyd) which are deftly re-configured as various props, storage spaces, hiding places, items of furniture etc. as the show progresses.

The play proper begins with what may or may not be personal confessions from the actors Lynn Hunter, Francois Pandolfo and Hannah McPake; and it is a testament to the naturalness and intimacy of their performances that their shame-faced admissions continue to inspire gasps from the audience even as the performance progresses and it becomes clear that they are inhabiting characters wildly divergent from themselves.

The show is essentially a collection of stories; confessions of misdeeds which generally involve sex, personal betrayal and/or cake. The quick-fire changes in tone and narrative style are cleverly signalled by Katy Morison’s lighting design and Tom Elstob’s unsettling soundscape.

The tales themselves range from the trivial to the horrific, although stopping short of anything which might result in police proceedings. Much laughter is provoked, some of it entirely inappropriate; but then, as the saying goes, Comedy is Tragedy, plus Time, plus It Happening To Someone Else.

The piece avoids becoming a random collection of shameful anecdotes by featuring the story of a sad love affair as its narrative spine. This leads to a focus on the unanswerable question which seems to be the point of the evening: what do we do with guilt?

The knowledge that we have done bad things may lead us to punish ourselves, to moderate our behaviour, or to gleefully carry on sinning, regardless of the consequences. Whatever, guilt remains to haunt us—perhaps laughter is the only sane way to cope with it.

The Terrible Things I’ve Done allows us to dip into other people’s traumas for 75 minutes or so, in a relatively painless but utterly relatable manner. It is sneakily likeable, but bleak at heart.

Reviewer: Othniel Smith

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