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The Biting Point

'...the hurt that fuels our hate'

TheBitingPoint

The Biting Point is Sharon Clark's new play, debuting at Theatre 503. After hearing about the play through twitter, I was excited to see it - largely because it was both at a theatre I hadn't been to before and also as it is a new play. Growing up we'd go to the West End regularly to see shows. I love musical theatre, luckily, as that is what the West End is full of. I also enjoy straight plays, but the ratio of plays to musicals in the West End is beyond ridiculous. Any plays that are lucky enough to be put on are generally revivals and almost always feature a famous name. No doubt many of these are very talented, but it seems casting relies on big names to draw in audience members rather than because they may be perfect for the role. A celebrity guarantees bums on seats, which in turn means people will be willing to pay more for an actor 'off the telly,' which then leads to lots and lots of money. However, telling people about the play you've just seen, you might be more likely to cite who was starring rather than the worth of the work. Also, these hiked up ticket prices, such as the £50 you'd pay to see Matthew Fox from Lost in In a Forest, Dark and Deep or Sienna Miller in Flare Path, limit the kind of audience who will be able to see the play, maintaining theatre's irrational sense of elitism.

So, an established theatre above a pub claiming to be 'the home of fearless, irreverent, brave and provocative new plays' and to 'push at the boundaries of what theatre can be' sounded more than appealing. Also, £9 for a concession or £14 for a regular ticket is a welcome change to West End prices. Even the word 'new' has become exciting when the same old plays are constantly revived and adapted, with musical theatre even turning increasingly to jukebox musicals (I make exception to this with Jersey Boys which is one of the most incredible shows I've seen). The assumption of these privately owned theatres is that audiences want something familiar and safe: something they know the words and tune to, and thus won't challenge them. There is definitely an audience for that. I love escapism and a fun evening out, and loved singing along at the end of Priscilla Queen of the Desert. However, I don't always want this, there needs to be an alternative, which is why these venues outside of the West End are important.

Theatre in its 'live' nature, has the ability to be consistently contemporary, reacting to what is happening in the world - as it happens. New writing embraces this. Instead of considering a show's bankability, the writer thinks of what needs to be said right now. Theatre is important and can challenge views, something that is often lost in the bright lights and gimmicks of the West End. The play being set in the eighties, under Thatcher's reign and a time of political upheaval resonates strongly. The conservatives have just come into power and there is a lot of fear and anger involved in that. The cuts are ruthless and protests have been in full swing. People may go to these protests with good intention of a peaceful protest but what we see on the news is images of chaos and violence. There are images of students smashing windows and hanging from the cenotaph. Equally, although perhaps under-reported, are images of police brutality - such as policemen dragging a young man across the floor: from his wheelchair. These acts are shocking, and the public are left wondering how students caring about their education can display this in such childish ways, and also how the police - there to keep the protests under control, seem to provoke and exacerbate further chaos. Rather than Clark writing about what is happening now, which might seem to be too self-consciously making a statement, she draws on the collective remembrance of the eighties. Displaying personal demons working their way into the protests, to the point of an overflow of anger: The Biting Point - with good people acting out immoral actions, alien to the character in their everyday life, but born into the angry, deindividuated environment of the march.

For a play that has the radicalism of the eighties at its heart, the politics are not over-emphasised. Characters hint at their beliefs without explicitly asserting them. When the march is imminent, and the march-goers change into their protest t-shirts the audience is made aware of the individual's political stance. This is a nice moment of revelation whereby up until now the audience are not made to judge character on why they are marching, but through their personal lives. Someone who is compassionate and caring to one kind of minority, turns out to be violently against another. The focus is not on who is right in the march, but rather the mentality of any individual going into that situation. The characters take their personal life with them, and so the actions provoked by politics are mixed up in domesticity and thus distorted into something beyond what the characters would have anticipated for themselves, as they find themselves on the brink of breakdown. The intimacy of this small theatre works well for the piece, as does the closed in set, where for each of the three personal narratives played out the setting is that of their home. Tension relentlessly builds in these domestic spheres, until the characters finally leave for the march - leading to an inevitable and powerful pathos. Each character is stuck with a person or in a reality that causes them frustration and claustrophobia, but from which they cannot easily leave.

Structurally Clark has crafted the piece in such a way that individual narratives are isolated yet inexplicably linked, as all the individual tensions are brought together at the end. When we think of history, we may also think of our own situation: where we were at the time, what we were doing, who we were with - our personal history. In the beginning monologue, Dennis lists places and years, of previous demonstrations, up to that point. This is one of many marches in the eighties. Later in his scene with Anna, he lists places & dates but this time with significance to his own life & demons. In Forced Entertertainment's book 'Certain Fragments', their artistic director Tim Etchells talks about the company creating a map of a place - plotting places where historical events had happened. Then, the map becomes multi-layered as the company plot their own histories alongside this. The personal is inextricably linked with the political.

On the play's opening, I was unsure of how I was going to receive it. Certain characters even provoked annoyance - but I soon came to realise this was the nature of the character's mentality, perhaps childishness and confidence - such as with both Wendy and Anna's characters. I came to understand and sympathise with their desire for affirmation and attention, and find frustration in their respective brother and lover's positions, while also seeing the difficulty of the whole situation: of being a carer or being addicted to such a dangerous affair. As the play went on, characters established and tension built, I was engrossed. The narrative hook of anticipating the march was enticing with the foreboding feeling something bad would definitely happen, without certainty as to what, or how the characters would be linked.

The final scene was disturbing and powerful. The use of narration rather than action was poignant, and I was able to see the detachment the characters felt from being in that situation, swept up in the mentality of the march. This detachment from the scene, combined with emotive narration was intense as we heard in detail of each action and reaction.

The dialogue was just perfect, and the relationships depicted felt real in all of their imperfections. The idea of being so close to someone that you know just how to push their buttons. Charlie Hollway as Malcolm flits between patience and anger; compassion and frustration. Even in his worst moments I felt for him, knowing that wasn't the complete depiction of his character, but that he had been pushed to the edge - and wondering how he would come back. His acting in the final scene was raw and full of truth. Face-on to the audience, there was no escaping his shameful narration and emotions: difficult to watch. Lizzie Roper's performance as Ruth was both endearing and later agonising. The little nuances of Ruth were engaging in all of their domestic ordinariness while the emotional power in her monologues was incredible. It is a long time since I've seen a scene played with such conviction and hurt: the lines feeling fresh and as though each word was being realised for the first time, or perhaps realised before but only now admitted to both herself and her audience. For such a powerful performance, I'm almost glad this play only has a short run for the reason that the play must be incredibly draining! Though ultimately I wish the play had more time as I feel it needs to be seen by more people.

The play opened on the 15th February and closes 12th March. The theatre is in Battersea, and the website advises the train to Clapham Junction and then which bus to get. We walked there from the station in about 15 minutes and it's a very simple route.

For more information on the production and to book tickets, go to Theatre 503 . I really would recommend this play - great to see a new piece of writing and to support this exciting venue.

Comments

  1. Wow thank you for this! I'd love to see this and live London (ish) so cheers for the heads up x

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