Event review: ‘The Flood’ by the Badac Theatre Company at Matthews Yard, Thursday 19th November

By - Thursday 3rd December, 2015

No comfort, no reassurance. Paul M Ford is swept away by Badac Theatre Company’s Flood

Image by Badac Theatre Company, used with permission.

Theatre Utopia is a black-painted back room at Matthews Yard. As we are ushered into the already-darkened space there are just two bulbs, suspended from the ceiling above, lighting the narrow, bare-boarded stage. They shed a sparing light over three high, industrial metal tables, and two figures. The first, a soldier in shirtsleeves, picks at his uniform jacket repeatedly with his fingers, muttering “lice… lice… lice”, while a nurse at the other end of the stage cuts up liver and throws it in a bucket: “dead… dead… dead”, she intones.

This is the audience’s introduction to the Badac Theatre Company’s The Flood. Disconcerted, we are unsure of our role here, and we are not allowed to scurry away and hide in the dark and the comfort of our seats, for there are none. Rather, we are invited, encouraged, and perhaps a little compelled to take our places on the stage itself, with the actors in touching distance, just a blood-stained fingertip away. Are we uncomfortable? A little, for some, perhaps very. But then this production is not intended to give comfort or reassurance.

Steve Lambert and Marnie Baxter play their parts with utter conviction and belief

Steve Lambert, who co-formed Badac back in 1999 and has researched, written and directed The Flood, is also the silver-haired ‘Tommy’ in the trenches. From the start he is a man, if not wholly broken, then teetering on the edge of succumbing to the madness that surrounds him. If there is one scant lifeline, it is his relationship with the nurse, with whom he exchanges letters and spends his leave. As with the scene at the start of the production, this relationship is ongoing before we are exposed to it. We never know how they met nor why they have bonded; they simply have. And it has become all-encompassing. To the nurse, the survival of her lover is everything, and she has created an idyllic, imagined world for them to inhabit. But at night come the dreams of darkness, a foreshadowing of bloody death and unimaginable pain.

Both Steve Lambert and Marnie Baxter play their parts with utter conviction and belief. There is an intensity throughout their performances, and when the nurse stands there, just three feet away, and looks you square in the eye and tells you of her deepest fears, you feel it. You have no choice; there is no looking away.

Photo by Badac Theatre Company, used with permission.

The piece is cyclical in nature, in turn recounting the nurse’s latest dream of death; the meeting of the lovers either by letter or on leave; the soldier going ‘over the top’ (underscored incredibly effectively by the simple expediency of the nurse hitting the metal table with a length of pipe to simulate an artillery barrage, and a knife on the table edge to recreate the sound of a machine gun) – before returning to the nurse and her next dream. This helps to reinforce the looming, oppressive nature of each impending attack. We all know it is coming. There’s nothing we can do. The dreams become darker, death looms larger, the soldier fights for survival… and love.

The lovers join their bloodstained hands and kiss

There are weaknesses. The project has its origins in the real love and loss experienced by a great aunt of Lambert’s, but in attempting to open it up and show these doomed lovers as essentially just two of thousands suffering a similar fate, the emotional impact is lessened. The characters have no names, no origins, and as a result they seem less real and the situation more artificial. There is an undeniable power in names, which clearly Lambert recognises in the episode when his soldier finds a mortally wounded comrade who cries out a woman’s name before dying. But his main protagonists remain everyman/woman and thus in some ways no man/woman, and so our emotional ties to them slip.

Much of the dialogue is a fevered repetition of sentences and phrases, which after a while becomes wearing; some of the language jars. In attempting to describe the devastation and death around him, the soldier uses the word ‘annihilation’, which surely a poorly-educated footslogger who left school at twelve (the standard school-leaving age in 1914) would be unlikely to have come across. And though much of the point of the play is to get across the sheer, unbridled insanity of war, using the word ‘insanity’ as frequently as they do nearly had me reaching for my thesaurus so that they could try another word in its place.

It is a bold, noisy, confrontational piece – and brave. It attempts to show the impact of the carnage and madness on both the soldiers and those who loved them and in many ways succeeds. But it is perhaps at its most eloquent when, in a rare and treasured moment of calm, the two lovers silently join their bloodstained hands and kiss.

Paul M Ford

Paul M Ford

Writing, singing, acting, stand-up comedy, not to mention banking and marketing, Paul has not so much followed a career path as leapt blind-fold into a dodgem car and headed down life’s highway, probably against the flow of traffic. With a fascination for history and a seemingly anachronistic sense of fair play, he’s a born-again Coulsdonian, who wants people to realise that a vision for a better Croydon should extend beyond a half-mile radius of the Whitgift Centre…

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