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Ben Daniels: The Best Performance I Have Ever Seen

Vinette Robinson and Jack Gordon in Tender Napalm, Southwark Playhouse, 2011

I’ve been a lover of anything Philip Ridley writes ever since I saw The Pitchfork Disney in the 90s. When I went to see Tender Napalm it was on a traverse stage, with just two chairs and the sound of a skipping rope. The two actors, Vinette Robinson and Jack Gordon, they came on stage ready to box out this story with violent intensity.

I love how Ridley uses storytelling. Two actors and words, nothing else. Gradually you worked out that the characters had lost their young daughter, who’d been violently killed. There were only tiny references to their loss, which you could only get if you knew Ridley’s writing well enough. You watched them control their lives, which had been torn apart by creating their own shell to heal themselves. They managed to make this viciously funny yet deeply moving – so moving that people began sobbing after one kissing scene.

Their first kiss was extremely long, but the actors managed to make the audience understand that as they kissed they were travelling through time, to the present day. The kiss transformed into something full of desperation and longing.

The actors only had each other, and the way they worked together was glorious. Not once did you wish there was a set. And because it was in traverse you could see other people watching it with you, watching you have this visceral response. It’s very rare to actually see people having a similar response to you. It was a unique feeling, and afterwards I felt jittery, like the carpet had been pulled from under my feet. Performances like theirs make you want to be better.

Interview by Hannah Olivennes
The Observer
, Sunday 10 July 2011

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