Reviewed – 27th June 2019
“As much as round RoundPeg tries to revitalise this unsettling play, it feels heavy handed and melodramatic”
Art or porn? That is the question. Anthony Neilson’s controversial play The Censor, makes a London comeback to explore all things taboo. Female-driven RoundPeg Theatre, responsible for its return, try taking a feminist stance on the work’s gender power play. Yet it’s difficult to tell if the fault lies with the writing, the performances or direction in not fully achieving the desired affect, making this production quite unbearable at times to watch (and that’s not the extremely close-up explicit content).
A female film director finds herself in the office of a censor, a man whose decision determines whether her work will be given the green light for release. Due to the film’s highly pornographic nature, the censor point blank writes it off as a no go, but can Miss Fontaine convince him to see beyond the images and at its artistic dissection of humanity instead? As she tries to educate him past the black and white and into the grey areas, more unravels about the censor’s personal life and the repressed feelings he’s held back.
The two female roles, Miss Fontaine and the censor’s wife, in particular, feel very one dimensional. As mentioned previously, it’s difficult to tell whether it’s the writing or the performances that don’t quite work. I feel it’s a little of both. Chandrika Chevli as The Wife is far too underused and whose brief moments on stage with Jonathan McGarrity seem fruitless. It would be more interesting to see their relationship developed further. Suzy Whitefield’s turn as the allusive Miss Fontaine can often come across forced whilst McGarrity as the censor lacks a sense of authority to initially clash and then be overruled by Miss Fontaine’s dominance.
The twenty-two year old play does feel aged in certain ways. Due to the growth of explicit images surrounding us and being easily accessible, the ‘scenes of a sexual nature’ in The Censor seem to have lost their potency. Undeniably there is still a certain frisson in having such acts simulated live, particularly the infamous defecation scene, but overall our desensitisation to the like, has made it far less shocking than back in 1997 when first staged.
The projection screens to the corners of the space, showing the erotic, semi-graphic scenes from ‘the film’ could have been used with far more powerful intention. It does help to set the dark, ambiguous atmosphere but ends up feeling monotonous and ineffectual as generally the same brief clip repeats for denoting transitions or sexual acts on stage.
As much as round RoundPeg tries to revitalise this unsettling play, it feels heavy handed and melodramatic. Although there are certainly problems with the writing itself, such as questionable character actions or improbable situations that occur, the more interesting questions that Neilson does raise feels undeveloped and not presented clearly enough by the company.
Reviewed by Phoebe Cole
Photography by Lidia Crisafulli
Hope Theatre until 13th July
Previously reviewed at this venue: