“Flickers of brilliant storytelling”
Anthony Neilson’s Penetrator covers the topics of masculinity, friendship, and how far a man will go for his mate. Max and Alan are friends and flatmates (with differing viewpoints on tidiness and laziness), when old friend of Max, Tadge, arrives unexpectedly, having been discharged from the army. Bringing a vast set of issues none in the group can comprehend we find out how much each of them is able to put up with.
Bizarrely, for a play that’s been produced at the Traverse, the Finborough and Royal Court (upstairs), it’s Neilson’s script which is really the weak link in this production, giving away frustratingly little about the backgrounds and motivations of each character. Conversation between Max and Alan frequently just dies and restarts again on a different topic for no reason, while any sort of tension and narrative drive appear only quite late on. Perhaps it’s all one over-burdened point by Neilson about men’s ability to communicate about emotion or anything of any depth, but even that wears thin as the chatter ploughs on about girls, haircuts, cards and cups of tea without feeling genuine.
The final fifteen minutes of drama are certainly attention-grabbing and tense, even if the motivation behind it feels rather flimsy with very little to establish it. Tadge’s accounts of the penetrators and his father never quite ring true, as the non-plussed reactions of the others smack of disbelief without enough intelligent dissection of the issues to draw the audience in. I was left wondering what all the fuss was about.
In saying all that, the cast do a fairly good job with the material – Chris Duffy is very relaxed and natural as Max, Matt Roberts suitably frustrated as Alan, and Tom White is the most convincing and compelling of the group as the war-affected Tadge. While the tense moments towards the end the production do get a little bit too shouty, the more emotional and thoughtful interchanges – particularly when recalling teenage incidents – are very well-delivered and stand head and shoulders above the rest in terms of emotional honesty as flickers of brilliant storytelling.
Given the amount of talent on display at moments during this performance, it’s clear that Fear No Colours as a company have the potential to produce great theatre, but unfortunately this production falls short in too many areas to show them in their best light.
Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 6 August)