Helter Skelter by Neil Labute

A review of Turtle Lab’s latest production

Cosy night descends into wild ride

by Jason Blake

Helter Skelter

Helter Skelter

Old 505 Theatre, June 22
Until June 30

A very pregnant woman meets her husband at their favourite bistro after a day of gift shopping in the city. It should be the relaxing start to a cosy night in a hotel suite. It takes just a few minutes and an awkward incident with a mobile phone to set a tragedy in motion.

Playwright Neil LaBute sucks elements of the ancient Greek Medea story into the present in this short, corrosively funny play whose shock ending depends on the viewer being swept up in its sudden escalation from infidelity drama to mythic showdown. Thanks to Jonathan Wald’s modest yet bold production, there’s a better than even chance you will be.

Working with designer Burju Nuhoglu, Wald counters LaBute’s hyper-naturalism by placing the scene in an abstract gallery-like space and isolating his characters in a gauzy cube. White carpet and walls throw everything into sharp relief. Liam O’Keefe’s lighting shifts the tone with block chords of colour.

The performances are nuanced and edgy. Julian Garner keeps his evasive, blame-shifting husband on the knife-edge of our sympathy; that is, until his squirming gives way to a self-justifying babble that would be laughable had not LaBute infused it with a bullying tone.

Faced with her husband’s pleas to not make a scene in public, Nadia Townsend’s woman does just that – and what a scene it is. Her performance makes this woman’s extreme reaction to her husband’s misdeeds seem not only plausible but justifiable.

Wald’s decision to include another figure in the scene – an ugly, yet tuneful presence – is a brave one, but it pays off, lending what could be a straightforward two-hander a welcome strangeness.

 

 

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