top of page

[Performance Analysis:] THE BANDAGED WOMAN, Old Red Lion Theatre, London.

I must admit, despite even reading the official synopses of this performance, I remain completely confounded as to what this performance was about, and judging by the conversation into which I entered with a fellow audience member, I am not alone. In Freya Sharp's (playing Hera) introduction, she states [in character?] that she desires to make a piece of theatre containing all the things that 'we are told' not to include. I think this was a success.

I shall start with the positives. Actors have tremendous energy and are clear of the intent of their various characters. They each perform with great conviction and vitality and are wonderfully expressive, though credibility is not so palpable. Upon entering the performance space, I note the wonderful, dim aesthetic. Light (Ruby Etches) is used to great visual appeal in this performance, with a preference for shadow.

But pretty designs and invigorated performers need to go somewhere...and I am not too sure where this performance took me, from a recovering face-surgery patient to a raging mob of druids to sophisticated curators and self-assured Russians to a basement fire caused by Hera burning "the Everything box"...content remains incredibly and ineffably disparate, and this is unaided by the dramatic text's inability to choose one performance style and to stick with it, with speech fragmented in places and poetic or naturalistic in others, with its use of characters versus its use of caricatures. This dramatic text seems to be obsessed with providing us with one vignette after another until there are so many that no coherency or intelligibility can be found across them. 'Developments' in conversation are, rather, utter changes in topic, topics that bear no relevance to those discussed before and those discussed afterwards. How characters interact with one another in this way, their relationship with and amongst one another, or their general status and function are all so ill-communicated that the actors become one big representative blur of expressions, of terrible shots at foreign accents and of fluid character profiles.

I mentioned that this performance was aesthetically appealing, yet functionality remains entirely questionable. I have no idea, for example, why props are so meticulously lain out Stage Right, each marked by spikes, if suitcases, canvases and paints, to name a few, are simply going to be brought in from backstage and back again. There is no imaginable artistic reasoning for this decision whatsoever. Why set an imagined topography if only to destroy it by having actors pass through walls and windows? There is no clear reasoning or logic behind set (designed by William Proudler) in this way.

Having characters stood to the side and leaning against the walls or sat down [supppedly 'off stage'] or amongst the audience members causes for a particular distancing effect – one might even say, with the multiroling, exposed props and lanterns, episodic scenes, and spike strips, a shot at the Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt...but there must be a reason for this! Do not just distance the audience because it is 'cool', 'moody' or 'mysterious' or because it is assumed that this will somehow better invite audiences to engage with the work; it will not. There is nothing to be gained from this distancing, one which comes to its climax when Samuel Hoult (playing Janos) singles out specific audience members via shining a torch onto their chests, only for us to hear another descriptive vignette about the life of a random person, whose only relevance I can imagine would be the inspiration of one of theatremaker Hera's characters – and I only arrived at this conclusion at a strain. Not only is this needlessly extremely confrontational and exposing for audiences, this particular act of distancing was blinding...I commend Hoult for remembering to direct the light at the audience members' chests, but this does not consider the audience members sitting in the row below who are positively blinded by the long-lasting rays.

As one can read, I have far too many questions, and they are not born from inquisitiveness but from sheer confoundment. And this is not from any 'inexperience' or 'artistic illiterateness' of my own; if the reasons are not clear to me, someone who is more than familiar with regularly searching for symbolism and significance, for reason and effect, they are simply not being communicated well enough.

This performance is simply too eclectic, clearly aiming to provide the audience with an exciting variety of contexts and characters, but the effects are simply too alienating. The semi-Brechtian influences are not cleverly incorporated into the performance at all, with this alienation only serving to provide the audience with a critical distance from which to view the work analytically, critically, and this has no place in a performance that aims to provide illusion in such a manner. One very simple and effective way of deducing a meaning in Brechtian performance: if I were to take a snapshot at any given moment during a Brechtian play, I should be able to understand what is happening from this snapshot alone; I would have no idea what was happening during this performance. The very dim aesthetic alone is undesirably fictionalising, allowing us to lose ourselves in the illusory darkness.

In terms of the play’s ‘messages’, writer William Proudler writes in an official synopsis, ‘I was interested in the dark side of success. We all want our name in lights, and we can be like moths to these lights, willing to do terrible things just to get close.’ Admittedly, I completely understand that this speaks of the bandaged woman having face surgery to better look like another woman she finds so fascinating, obsessing over the stars whom she knew in her past…but [ironically, given that she is the titular character] this is such a minor element of this play; all other material is distinctly separate from this. What does the crowd of druids, angry with the revamping of their house, have to do with this? What do the various persons audience members are identified with have to do with this? This is by no means made clear. If this is supposedly such a Brechtian, critical and exploratory play, all elements should benefit solely the communication of its sociopolitical agenda; no element whatsoever should have any hedonistic or illusory quality, existing only for amusement or visual/dramatic intrigue. The sociocultural enquiry here is weak, ill-communicated, and undernourished by the material we are presented.

Notably, each individual 'creation', or 'vignette' as I have referred to them thus far, that we are presented is rather interesting in itself, beyond the borderline inappropriate cultural references; however, together, these are completely ludicrous. A performance that aims to show everything but ends up presenting very little.

“Inarticulate, stylistically confused, chaotic, unintelligible.”


bottom of page