"The Dark Roots of Terrorism"
by Avril Silk for remotegoat on 10/07/16

On Wednesday I attended an event organised by Somerset Quakers with two leading peace-keepers. On Saturday I watched Anita Parry’s exhilarating production at Exeter’s Cygnet Theatre of ‘Terrorism’ by the Presnyakov Brothers. Both, in their way, exploring the roots of violent action in others and ourselves; both inviting us to see that victims are not necessarily pleasant, or indeed innocent people (despite seeming to have good on their side) and terrorists are people first, (not an impersonal ‘Axis of Evil’) whose experiences of anger, grief, loss, betrayal and shame – which we may share in varying degrees - lead them to evil actions – which, in the main, most of us do not replicate. Part of the skill in the writing of this play is that we can, if we choose, look into the impulses and thoughts which could take us to dark and terrible places.

The dark comedy of ‘Terrorism’ shows how a cuckolded husband exacts a terrible revenge – or does he? Are we watching an elaborate fantasy or a fully realised act of terror? I took it as the latter, relishing the way a series of short, apparently disparate scenes, are all connected. Not even six degrees of separation.

Cygnet’s young, talented actors were excellent, bringing terrific energy and insight to an often wordy, slightly clunky script. The music was very well chosen and performed with verve. They also did all the backstage work, with an admirable attention to detail – set, costumes, props and lighting, - demonstarting hours of dedicated and enthusiastic work. This was no minimalist staging; when I first saw the deceptively simple set, I thought, ‘Hmm. So far, so cheap and cheerful’, and I was delighted to be proved wrong. The set was ingenious, full of surprises, and I understand much of the credit for that goes to Tom Chudley Evans.

Dedicated team work was consistently in evidence; this was ensemble work at a high level, including the smooth scene-shifting and supportive costume changing. I thought about the performance all the way home; my only regret being that I couldn’t persuade any of my friends to join me. They found the title and blurb uninviting, fearing a depressing evening. This led me to worry that others might feel similarly. I half expected to be watching the play in solitary splendour, so was relieved to find myself part of a capacity, enthusiastic, appreciative audience.

The cast treated us to a series of memorable encounters with very well delineated characters – too many to list here - but I thoroughly relished: Damian Schedler Cruz and Scott Simpson as a pair of philosopher passengers; Tom Chudley Evans as a betrayed husband driven to, at best, thoughts of unspeakable violence; Guy Dennys as Meltdown Manager with his colleague, Supernova Spinster played by Emily Partridge; murderous old biddies Sofia Vieira and Jessica Parsons; Marissa Rowell and Jake Sullivan as a pair of adulterers whose joyless coupling was gloriously comic and made celibacy look pretty compelling; and a delightful, impeccably behaved, anonymous dog. The psychologist’s startling suit deserves a special mention as well. The locker room scene was deeply disturbing and very well judged.

I thoroughly enjoy my regular visits to see Cygnet productions as there is genuine pleasure to be had in watching the students develop their talents. ‘Terrorism’ offered a challenge which they met with aplomb. Well done to them all, and best wishes to Sofia Vieira as she graduates.

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