Saturday, 25 October 2014

The Curing Room at the Pleasance Theatre, London

“It made the recent Globe production of Titus Andronicus look like a teddy bear’s picnic!” said my companion, as the lights went down on Stripped Down Production's The Curing Room.And indeed over 90 minutes we had been subjected to a deluge of blood, guts and gore, coupled with full frontal male nudity the likes of which I have never seen before on the stage.

David Ian Lee’s  The Curing Room throws seven Soviet soldiers into the empty cellar of  a monastery, stripped of all belongings and their clothes. Abandoned by their captors, and left without food, the men resort finally to murder and cannibalism in order to survive. The play asks questions about how we redefine ourselves in extreme circumstances, how the constraints of normal civilised society and military rank cling to us, or don’t.

The play is something of a tour de force for the seven brilliant actors, who literally bare all before the  audience. Director Joao De Sousa is unflinching in his depiction of cannibalism and there is, as I said earlier, a lot of blood. My companion spent much of the latter part of the evening with his head turned away from the stage.  This play is definitely not for the faint-hearted, and if your only reason for going is a prurient desire to see seven men naked, well you soon get used to that. The gore is harder to cope with.

It would be invidious to pick out any one of the actors. They all work as a close knit team, and all, without exception give excellent performances. De Sousa’s pacing is brilliant, and I was gripped throughout. Once away from the theatrical brilliance of it all, though, a few minor doubts crept in about the writing and about the play itself. For much of the play, the characters come across as mere cyphers, as representatives of certain types; the stiff upper lip captain, the honourable senior-lieutenant, the slightly simple young private, the old retainer and so on. This could be the reason I found it ultimately less involving than I should have. Though the horror of what unfolds before you certainly draws you in,  ultimately ones cares little about the fate of these soldiers as individuals.

None the less, The Curing Room is gripping drama and well worth seeing if you have the stomach for it. I doubt we will see anything like it again for some time.

4 stars

The Curing Room is at the Pleasance Theatre until November 9th.

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