Reviewed – 21st October 2018
“highly watchable and totally uncompromising in its commitment to Kelly’s vision”
Dennis Kelly’s Debris is not a beautiful play. A classic of In-yer-face theatre, it documents the strange, fantastical origins of a brother and sister whose understanding of life is warped by the adults that control it. The play opens with the brother’s description of their father committing suicide by crucifixion: thus, the audience is immersed into a world of where adults are predators, babies are found in the rubbish, and normality is just a dream on a TV screen. It is visceral, loud, disturbing.
But, somehow, beautiful is the immediate adjective that I reach for when thinking of Battered Soul Theatre’s revival of Debris. The company have engaged with the many layers in Kelly’s text to create a vivid piece that is beautifully acted and designed and executed with enthralling energy.
Hugo Aguirre’s set design plays a huge part in this; in many ways, it is the star of the show. Upon entering Theatre N16, the curious spectator peers over the heads of their fellow audience members to see a cramped square of stage, on which two people sit drawing shapes in the dust. They are surrounded by stones and sand; a bike wheel and a ripped plastic bag sit in one corner, a neon tricycle in another. By covering the stage in literal debris, Aguirre not only reflects the dark content of the play, but uses it in order to amplify the action. From the sounds of the actors walking across stones to the clouds of dust that billow up as they scramble violently through their grotesque world, this highly innovative design evokes more than artificial means could hope to.
But this is not to compromise the performers themselves. It is thanks to James Anthony-Rose and Louise Waller that the pace of the show never flags. Anthony-Rose’s Michael fizzes with anger and frustration: his bitter, deadpan description of his ‘fat bastard’ of a father dying on the cross and annoyance at his sister’s persistent aliveness is both chilling and darkly funny. Equally, however, Anthony-Rose emphasises Michael’s vulnerability. His discovery of a baby in a pile of rubbish and instinct to care for him is moving; the audience’s attachment to these moments is strengthened by the prior harshness of his character. Waller’s delivery has the same deadpan quality, but her Michelle maintains the coolness that Michael loses. She effectively portrays and maintains the siblings’ detachment from reality: the many contradictory stories of her mother’s death have an otherworldly quality, despite their emotional core. Under the strong guidance of director Alex Prescot, they have created characters that are both believable and detached, perfectly capturing the internal conflict of Kelly’s play.
Battered Soul have proven that Debris still stands as a fascinating and innovative piece of theatre that has the ability to challenge and captivate an audience. Their adaptation is both highly watchable and totally uncompromising in its commitment to Kelly’s vision.
Reviewed by Harriet Corke
Photography courtesy Battered Soul Theatre
Theatre N16 until 25th October
Previously reviewed at this venure: