Neil LaBute’s Bash at St Albans’ Maltings Arts Theatre

BASH, Neil LaBute’s disturbing trilogy of plays, is not for the faint-hearted.

All three tales which make up the trilogy are gruelling but utterly compelling at the same time.

Local theatre company Peppermint Muse tackled Bash at the Maltings Arts Theatre last week and richly deserved the applause which greeted the end of the performance on Friday night.

Basically Bash looks at death in the darkest of circumstances – one is the death of a baby, another the death of an older child and the third the likely demise of a gay man as a result of a violent and unprecedented attack.

All three are told in confessional mood but while the first two – Iphigenia in Ofem and Medea Redux – demonstrate some signs of regret at how the fatalities arose, the third takes almost a gleeful approach to it which is the most disconcerting of all.

Bash is a two-hander and puts huge demands on the actors, particularly Stephen Cunningham who takes the role of the young man in Iphigenia in Orem and John in the third play, A Gaggle of Saints.

Stephen, a familiar face on the St Albans stage, is a remarkable talent and local audiences are lucky to have him. He imbues the young man with a nervous laugh as he tensely recounts his tale in Iphigenia in Ofem so that by the end, you are left with a degree of understanding about why he did what he did while not condoning it.

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That same nervous laugh appears when he portrays John but what little sympathy there is with the young man is in far shorter supply in A Gaggle of Saints because of the triumphalist way Stephen recounts events.

Playing the woman in Medea Redux and Sue in A Gaggle of Saints is the equally talented Louisa Stevens. It is the role of the woman that is the most testing and like Stephen, she rises to an immense challenge with great skill in what is the most moving of the two monologues.

As Sue she is required more to show the type of woman and life John aspires to while being ignorant of his prejudice and violent streak.

Because it is confessional, Bash requires intense concentration so the compact Maltings Arts Theatre is a perfect location. Director Lisa White is clearly fascinated by all three of the plays and it takes a lot of skill to ensure that the attention of the audience does not drift off but she does it with aplomb.