I’m sitting in a theatre, but the dark space around me has shrunk until it feels like a consultation room.
There are two comforting red chairs on stage where the patients come to talk. A man, a couple and then a young woman. One after the other taking up the chairs and telling me – the audience member turned psychiatrist – about their lives.
This is Bash, a dark but riveting play about ordinary people who each nurse a deadly secret.
They’re all a little nervous and rather intense, but not too different from the rest of us. Pretty similar to those of us who are judging them, in fact.
Bash is an intriguing triptych by American playwright Neil Labute, who is described in the programme as “an unforgiving judge of the ugliest side of human nature”.
What’s remarkable is how Labute has his characters confessing something dark and secret, but not making a big deal about it. As if it’s all quite natural, something that anyone else could have done too.
But for the audience, each tale has a twist that catches us like a punch, to think that they could do these things then carry on living a normal life amongst us.
His first character (Daniel Janks) is a big guy about to lose his job. He starts off with a ranting monologue and he’s a bit of a misogynist, but he’s far from outlandish. You feel a little sorry for him as he tries to get on in life despite the trauma of losing a baby.
The punch comes and goes from his confessional chair, but Janks carries on with his ordinary life.
The next smug and shallow characters are so in sync that they finish each other’s sentences, yet the man (James Alexander) is hiding a secret that even his girlfriend (Jessica Freidan) fails to see.
Ashleigh Harvey completes the trio of short acts as a young mother who had an affair with a teacher when she was 13. She’s been damaged by someone else’s callous behavior that twists her more than he was ever twisted.
Like the others, she is intense, yet somehow ordinary, and utterly mesmerising as she tells her story of abuse and warped revenge.
The actors have cracked the American accents convincingly, and perhaps it helps to think of these screwed-up characters as foreign, although they could easily fit into sexist, homophobic, life-is-expendable South Africa too.
The writing is eloquent and sharp, insightful and disturbing, and director Megan Willson brings out its intensity superbly.
The soft lighting often turns stark for a moment to perfectly highlight and frame a confession, a chilling moment or a flash of anger.
This is not a light night out at the theatre. It’s a therapy session with four people you never want to share a room with again.
But it makes you wonder if the person sitting next to you has an unspeakable secret of their own. DM
Bash runs at Sandton’s Auto & General Theatre on the Square until 27 September.
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