Discreet Theatre, Invitation to a Beheading

Review in Issue 14-4 | Winter 2002

We are all going to die – that’s the premise of the latest hybrid cultivated in Shunt’s Bethnal Green arch. The artists invited by Shunt to devise and perform have taken a Nabokov short story as the starting point for their theatrical installation; Gemma Brockis of Shunt directs this intricate piece of nastiness with surprising sensitivity. Death and torture may be crucial to the proceedings, but the tale of a doomed man visited repeatedly by his despairing lawyer, bewildered wife and prison cleaner ends up more moving than it sounds.

The key to this performance of imprisonment is its economically site-specific staging. The inmate’s paper prison cell holds some 25 voyeurs and allows the characters’ actions to encroach on the audience’s immediate environment. What begins as a pristine place to sit ends as a pile of debris inhabited by a life-size spider… this eight-legged creature nearly stole the show by developing human eyes and finally emerging as the potentially unfaithful wife to dance with the prison cleaner. Arachnids aside, the return of the actor who played the lawyer proved equally confusing when the actor donned a golf player’s guise, as the relationship between the two characters was never clarified.

However, these surreal quirks can be forgiven in a production that bursts with an absurdist energy whole-heartedly embraced by the whole cast. Vivien Stern gives a captivating performance as the enigmatic wife, and Jeremy Hardingham’s rendition of the condemned man is soulful indeed. Simon Kane is well cast as the stuffy lawyer, warming to the curlicues of Michael Regnier’s quirky script. All in all, a show worth being confused by.

Presenting Artists
Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. Nov 2002

This article in the magazine

Issue 14-4
p. 29