When a life-shattering event picks you up and crushes your soul slowly, grinding it to a fine dust between its fingers, it is inevitable that the scars will run deep and that its effects will spill out of you and slowly poison those around you too.
Unifaun Theatre explores the personal devastation that the atrocities of war and misplaced faith in others can have on the human psyche in Edward Bond’s The Price of One, a new play premiering at the Manoel Theatre this weekend.
Split between two very different scenes – the first a wasteland of a battleground, all ruins and dust, where Malcolm Galea plays Harry, the Soldier who meets the Woman with the Baby (Simone Spiteri); the second, a room in Harry’s flat, following his post-war return to civilian life – the play is driven by the choices he makes in his single encounter with Spiteri’s frantic, desperate woman.
The repercussions of his stint as a soldier, culminating in this one singularly horrific event, seep into his civilian life and lead to his wife Ruth’s (Magda Van Kuilenburg) fragile psychological state. Van Kuilenburg’s Ruth swayed from bouts of calculated calm, driven by a mind focused on imposing order in the mental chaos of her marriage, to low moods and frenzy – which somehow allow Sig, their upstairs neighbour (Andre Agius) to justify his stalker-like attraction to Ruth, fancying himself in the role of a saviour.
Ceri Townsend’s simple yet effective design concept for the set allowed the four actors to focus on what truly matters in Bond’s scripts: the prison of the mind and by extension the strong focus on the characterisation of four individuals whose combined entities explore the plunging depths of human torment.
From guilt to fear and emotional instability to dispassionate, almost cruel choices, Bond’s script has once again adapted what works best: the darkness of our humanity and the fear this potential for darkness evokes within us. It is not simply a darkness attributed to evil or wrongdoing, rather the darkness that can descend upon us in times of trouble – obscuring our clarity of thought, diminishing empathy and spiralling into depression.
Memories do not only haunt us but bind us, restrict our freedoms and prevent us from being ourselves
Bond manages to present the hauntingly poetic flights of thought in the tragic situation experienced by Harry, thanks to Galea’s incredibly strong yet soft portrayal of a man who is sick of fighting and ready to lay blame and point fingers, or rather guns, at those who “started it” – Spiteri’s anxious and half-crazed woman.
His redemption lies so close at hand that he can touch it, even nurture it, but a momentary lapse in judgement, stemming from a softening of his heart, lead to its horrific loss, rendering his previous efforts futile.
Spiteri gave a poignant interpretation of a woman forever altered by the wretched hopelessness around her, while the tough exterior of Soldier Harry was deconstructed and mellowed by Galea’s sensitive rendition of a man struggling to understand.
Thanks to director Chris Cooper’s strong directorial choices, both Galea and Spiteri shared an emotionally charged yet subtle scene which ended with a question then answered in the second scene, where pent up tensions were let loose, with Harry and Ruth’s emotional turmoil finding a physical release in their own outbursts, with Sig acting as their catalyst.
Mr Agius’ Sig brought some elements of dark humour to the piece but mostly served as an impartial voice of reason, pushing for the truth, in his own disturbed and ironically unstable way.
In an incredibly intense and emotionally draining second scene, contrasting with the more nuanced, encounter between the soldier and the woman, Van Kuilenburg’s Ruth reduces herself to near-annihilation, before suddenly regaining her self-possession at the end and signalling that there is hope with her husband if they work as a unit. Agius’s and Van Kuilenburg’s characters literally exposed how memories do not only haunt us but bind us, restrict our freedoms and prevent us from being ourselves, while Harry implies that societal restrictions and norms only help us bury and hide what we can never recover from or forget.
The play ends with a climax which reveals the tragic truth of the question posed in the initial battlefield scene, and the heavy cost that The Price of One has had on several other people. Ultimately it leads us to ask: what is a life truly worth? How can our inability to alter circumstances have an impact on our emotional stability?
Bond’s The Price of One is definitely a play to watch and learn from, if anything, for the bitter pill it forces us to take when revealing uncomfortable truths.
• The Price of One is being staged at the Manoel Theatre on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 8pm. Tickets may be obtained by sending an e-mail to bookings@teatrumanoel. com.mt, online at www.teatrumanoel.com.mt or by calling 2124 6389.
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