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by Anthony Neilson

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Tebut Isfar

ta ' Clare Azzopardi





Tender Napalm

Author:   Philip Ridley

Director:   Toni Attard

Cast:   Andre Agius, Bettina Paris

Asst Director:   Lizzie Eldridge

Choreography:   Sandra Mifsud

Set Design:   Romualdo Moretti

Venue:   St James Cavalier

Dates:   30, 31 January, 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 February 2014 and 2, 3, 4, 5 July 2014

Edinburgh Fringe Run: 10 to 25 August 2014 at C Nova Studio 1.

Summary:   A young couple struggles with the death of their five year old daughter in a terrorist attack.  This is a play that questions if there can be love in terrorist days and examines the relationships between Man and Woman against a background of love, sex, loss and imagination.


What the papers said:

Words as weapons

Sometimes life takes over and it whooshes me up into a conundrum of very unimportant stuff like politics with a little ‘p’. Every so often I give into my propensity to over analyze the trivial stuff and forget about the bigger picture.

That’s when I take time out, and do the unthinkable. That’s when I take a break and go to a theatre to immerse myself in someone else’s intricate thoughts, over articulation and fertile imagination.

This time I went to watch a rehearsal preview of ‘Tender Napalm’ at St. James Cavallier.

‘Tender Napalm’ is Philip Ridley’s fiery and yet chilling rendition of love and hate. I found it savagely funny and yet so deeply sensual that at times I had to look away to recompose myself.

Bettina Paris and Andre Agius are the only two people in this play, and when I say the only two people I mean that as far as they’re concerned, there’s absolutely nobody else; not even the audience.

These two young actors are so talented that they’ll have you enthralled, confused and elated all at the same time. Add this to Toni Attard’s impeccable direction, and they look like are feeling every single word they say deep in their soul, like a kiss on the nape or a punch in the gut.

The two actors could be boxers sizing each other up before a fight, but we soon figure out that they are in fact lovers who spend the whole duration of the play circling around each other with pin point precision and acrobatic timing.

They interrupt each other all the time because they are both worried that the other will overtake their version of the truth. To keep their story alive and believable, they keep reinventing it, feeding off each other’s cues always trying to take the upper hand with a ferocious competition.

Sounds familiar? Don’t we all have our own version of what really happens in love? Don’t we all fight to make sure that our version remains the official one, even though in truth, even that is a made up out of our version of the facts.

The narrative is certainly not straightforward because the one who controls it holds the power, but by the end, it transpires to be unimportant, especially when compared to the underlying discourse, which examines the violence of love, and its uncomfortably close relationship with hate.

The narrative moves backwards from what looks like the end of a relationship to the very first moment it started. Throughout, Ridley’s words burn and not just between the sheets, but also inside the mind of the audience because it exposes those secret places that we keep so deeply hidden even more than perverse sexual acts.

Words are the weapons that this play uses to express love, consolation and ultimately even castration. But what did I expect from a play called “Tender Napalm”? Napalm is a mixture of a thickening agent and petroleum used in chemical warfare.

- Alison Bezzina, The Times of Malta Blog, 28 January 2014

Kill Me Softly


There are times when you’ll feel like Tender Napalm must be the product of a fevered mind, like somebody dropped some acid, watched 

There are times when you’ll feel like Tender Napalm must be the product of a fevered mind, like somebody dropped some acid, watched The Drowned Man, and wrote it all down. But then you realise that that’s not quite right. This isn’t the product of schizophrenia: this is schizophrenia. We’re not looking at a broken mind, we’re inside it.

The clue is in the name. Like its oxymoronic title, Philip Ridley’s play lurches violently between extremes. At one moment the two characters – played by Andre Agius and Bettina Paris – are enacting violent sexual fantasies, and the next they’re softly recounting stories of their childhood. Like a pendulum, every time the play swings one way, you hold your breath: the next swing will be more violent still.

Romualdo Moretti’s incredible set design sums it all up. At first you notice the forest canopy above, equal parts forest of Arden and crown of thorns. Above it hang metallic globules: they resemble pieces of shrapnel, but eventually they light up like stars in a romantic film that’s probably written by Richard Curtis.

The actors sit raised and isolated from the audience within their own contemporary blasted heath, an inventive use of the St James stage. The detritus of some apocalyptic event hems them in. But the world we will inhabit for the majority of the play is not here amid the carnage. “Have you seen the view?” the characters constantly ask one another.

The suggestion arises that the world we see is just a projection. For the duration of the play they tell each other fantastical stories, contributing in turn to a vast and all-encompassing collaborative tale playing out on a mythical island ravaged by a tsunami and dominated by sentient simians, like a dark rendition of The Tempest via Sucker Punch. Right.

But there are cracks.

The floor is arranged in a spiral and the centre cannot hold. That centre, we come to understand, is the death of the couple’s child in an unspecified event an unspecified amount of time ago.

In their fantasy world, an alien creature’s cry of grief for his lost daughter is so potent, it creates a black hole. And like that black hole, the death of the child draws our characters inexorably inwards. At first they resist it. When they submit to the pull, when fantasy breaks down and they are forced to face reality, the grief is genuinely affecting. But then the pendulum swings and they’re back. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression – it’s all here, but acceptance eludes. So we remain trapped among the charred boxes and discarded mattress springs.

The alien’s response to his grief is to embrace the violence that killed his daughter, to annihilate those responsible, and that violence permeates the play from its very first words: “Your mouth is such a wet thing. I could squeeze a bullet between those lips.” A preview for Unifaun’s production suggested that the play explores the commonality between love and hate. But I disagree: there is no hate in this world, only love.

In this world sex is submission – more, it is brutality. But it is not hateful; if anything, the brutality is communicative. Violence becomes a method of relating to the other, of reshaping the universe. And, as such, it proves undeniably effective. What can the world possibly do to us that we are not able – and ready – to do to each other?

The actors explore this tension with a physicality – choreographed by Sandra Mifsud – that looks like the slow-motion fall-out of a bomb blast, or something out of 300: it’s explosive, but it’s also contemplative. From this core emanate two utterly assured performances. This is not a mainstream script by any means. Powerful as it is, a poor performance would render it utterly incomprehensible. That the actors – with energy, tenderness, and brutal honesty – navigate it so effectively, is quite the feat.

My one gripe is that the performances seemed to grow less comfortable when the script called for a shift into a more naturalistic mode: the action often remained stuck on a stylistic level that felt divorced from the actual words being spoken. The high-volume, high-octane mythologising called for a more effective counterpoint. The storytelling was masterful, but could there have been deeper depths of grief – and madness – waiting to be plumbed?

Finally, a word on Toni Attard’s direction. The art of directing is a neglected field in Malta: often populated with senior actors like some sort of management post. With Tender Napalm, Toni demonstrates a powerful authorial vision that transforms the whole into more than the sum of its parts. In so doing he simultaneously shows us what the specialist director can do and confirms himself as possibly the brightest spark we have so far.

Generally – generally – I’d wonder whether the superlatives currently flowing in this play’s direction might not simply indicate a poverty in the fare we’re usually exposed to. But Tender Napalm, you feel, might just deserve every thing that’s being said.

-Philip Leone-Ganado, Birdboot's Beat Blog, 3 February 2014


Lovingly Vicious

Philip Ridley’s Tender Napalm, directed by Toni Attard and on show till February 10 at St James Cavalier, is a play that plays with your head and heart. Love, resentment, grief, a sense of tragedy, dark humour, and masked pain. So much pain.


A couple are thrown on what seems to be a post-apocalyptic desert island, often engaging themselves in violent and sexual descriptions of what they’d like to do to each other. The language is brutal, no doubt; brutal and gripping at the same time, case in point being the very first few lines of the play: “Your mouth ... it’s such a ... wet thing ... I could squeeze a bullet between those lips.”


Within the first opening lines a stream of questions flood and send my mind on a spin, not necessarily within the confines of the play but certainly because of it. What excites us? What is sexuality? How does tragedy affect it? And - perhaps more immediate - what tragedy, if any, has befallen this pair? 


 We would be foolish to expect art to give us scientific answers. What we do get, though, is an agonizing and exciting close up to situations striding the real as much as the fantastic, such as this one.


 The play moves forward like the pounding of waves. It swings from one torturous scene to the next. Like a tortuous sex session, it builds up to a plateau, hits release, then goes off again, swelling and building up, spinning from one fantasy to the next, all violent, all twisted. Like when the man tells the woman that he could squeeze a grenade “up there”, leaving the pin showing “like the beak of a clockwork cuckoo”, slowly tweaking it until it goes, BOOOM! Or when the woman tells the man that she will tie him spreadeagle to the bedposts with copper wire, then slowly castrate him using garden shears.


 Scene after scene and fantasy after fantasy, all build up to an impression of a frantic escape from some horrible reality that is bursting at the seams, like the exploding steam of a pressure cooker.


 It is not all words, either. Andre Agius and Bettina Paris, respectively the man and woman, give a stunning, very physical performance, at times bordering on dance.


 The underlying tragedy is revealed little by little, much in the same way the man tells the woman that he would “pull back the layers of [her] c*** like the leaves of an artichoke”, reaching the deepest, tenderest parts.


 One of the most haunting lines came near the end, in all its simplicity and, perhaps, its obviousness. The woman recounts something her mother told her: “the only thing that we cannot cope with is when a parent loses a child. Only that is too much for us. Only that can drive us into madness.” A grim picture starts to clearly form: the couple’s child, a five-year-old girl, was killed in a terrorist attack. Suddenly, it all starts falling into place; that is, until the bullet scene comes back in reversed roles, closing the performance, possibly hinting at eternal recurrence, an infinite loop.


 I distinctly remember the murky lump of gloom weighing down on my stomach, back in 2007, when watching another of Ridley’s plays, Mercury Fur. In that case, too, the local production was in the hands of Adrian and Sarah Buckle’s Unifaun Theatre. They have carved a name for themselves with daring, quality productions such as Howard Brenton’sPaul, the Stitching censorship saga, and, late last year, the wildly successful staged version of Trevor Zahra’s Il-Ħajja Sigrieta tan-Nanna Ġenoveffa.


 Tender Napalm may not be everybody’s cup of tea. However if you, like me, enjoy the thrills of things unusual akin to bitter black coffee on which you can meditate while cracking an occasional grin, then this play may be your cup and then some more.

-Adrian Camilleri, The Sunday Circle, 4 February 2014


Unifaun explores the chemistry of passion and destruction in Tender Napalm

  Dancing Around the Flames of Love and Loss

 Love is a funny thing.  To be in it, to have it for somebody, to get it from someone, to lose it, to fight the seemingly irrepressible feelings – not of passion; but of lingering affection, of what might have been, of what is no longer possible and of what was taken away.  Elation, resentment, intrigue, anger, fear, doubt: that near-irrational second-guessing, the fear that keeps you from stepping over the edge of the precipice, and the knowledge that love once held a relationship together.  All these notions are explored in Unifaun Theatre’s production of Philip Ridley’s stunningly poetic and brutal play, “Tender Napalm” at St James Cavalier, which runs until next weekend.

 This is a technically and emotionally demanding two-hander, which director Toni Attard and directing assistant Lizzie Eldridge handled with great sensitivity while giving the visceral dynamics of a couple whose relationship is in constant turmoil, their due importance.  Stranded on a metaphorical island, this couple, known only as Man and Woman, played by André Agius and Bettina Paris respectively, struggle with the various nuances of their love, from sultry sexual passion, to the destructive forces of the tragedy in their shared past.  Theirs is an existence outside the constraints of time, because their pain is fresh and renewed with every memory.  This is the kind of play which requires the cohesiveness in staging which only a strong combination of different disciplines can give. 

 Chris Gatt’s highly effective lighting design served as the perfect backdrop for Romualdo Moretti’s set – another one of this designer’s stylised creations which focused on the use of natural elements and relative simplicity, which I particularly like as a design aesthetic.  His floating canopy of branches above the ‘deserted island’ juxtaposed isolation and rootedness while casting stunningly beautiful shadows – reflective of the two characters’ moods.  Sarah Mifsud’s choreography grew organically out of the feverish conflict between Man and Woman, which sends their relationship spinning out of control as they spiral from sexual intimacy to a desperate struggle for power and peace of mind in an increasingly unstable, almost unreal world.  Ridley’s theatre is a torrent of poetry with a touch of absurdist, whose cleverly crafted words were marshalled by Toni Attard in a production which relied on the dynamism and chemistry of the two protagonists.

 Both Mr Agius and Ms Paris gave stellar performances which were slightly raw given their youth relative to their characters’ level of experience, but this actually worked very much in their favour because it gave their interpretation the immediacy and repressed pain which it needed.  It was a pleasure to see these two up and coming actors take on something complex and weighty and making it their own.  Both have come a long way since they first started treading the boards publicly: seeing them dealing with such an abstract and multi-layered script so maturely, taking on its thematic and emotional richness in their stride, while connecting with the audience in a palpable manner, is a mark of an excellent knowledge of theatre craft.  Ms Paris’ Woman was in equal measures coquettish, tender, angry and desperate at the loss she has suffered and her occasional descent into dark humour and indignance worked to counter balance Mr Agius’ Man as he moves from love and lust to hope and finally into bouts of wrath, bravado and defiance.  The dynamic between the two showed control and trust which translated to the right kind of confidence and energy on stage.  Their arresting performance made the most of the play’s haunting themes of loss and fear in the age of terrorism, setting fire to the tumultuous emotions experienced by the two characters.  “Tender Napalm” is one of this season’s must-see shows and certainly an ideal showcase of the professionalism and quality which Maltese theatre can reach.  A much deserved “bravo!” to all.

 -Andre Delicata, The Times of Malta, 5 February 2014




Fierce duellists on an imaginary island

Philip Ridley's Tender Napalm, being produced by Unifaun at St James Cavalier, is a remarkable play for two actors, named simply Man (Andre Agius) and Woman (Bettina Paris). 

Over 90 minutes they, engage in a long series of loving, or violent, dialogues, or aria-like monologues, in which they lay bare their relationship.

Some are very long indeed. In these, they talk about past experiences as they remember them or misremember them. Or else, they talk excitedly about wildly fanciful experiences that reveal to the other, and to the audience, their inner being.

Ridley is putting before our eyes, sometimes amused but often pitying, a crisis in the relationship. The crisis revolves around who of the two is boss and psychological leader. It is a crisis related to the couple’s increasing failure to maintain the connection that has initially brought them together.

It is also a crises brougt about, apparently, by a terrorist bomb explosion that killed the couple's child.  The Man, some of whose earliest lines in the play are about inserting a bullet, as well as a hand grenade, in different orifices of the Woman's body, has an aggressive personality. 

Perhaps his most extraordinary monologue is the one describing how he was kidnapped by aliens. These aliens he describes as being incapable of violent acts, but they also wish to destroy their enemy’s planet.

Man recounts how they use the Man's DNA to clone a generation of aggressive creatures.  They also get the Man to steer a spaceship towards the enemy planet and bomb it out of existence, something he does with an amazingly great delight.

In the important final scene where, interestingly, we see the Man and the Woman having their first meeting, we learn the origin of the fanciful environment that colours all the preceding scenes, such as the white unicorn that symbolises the romantic element in the couple's love.

The Man makes clear to the Woman his desire to bring about peace and justice in the world, with violence if necessary.  Has this made the Woman see this conviction as blameworthy for the child's violent death?

Not that the Woman is even slightly restrained. Toni Attard's impressively dynamic direction makes Paris's Woman someone whose physicality almost matches that of Agius. It enables her to engage with him with in strength and energy. 

Their duels, one in particular, have an agility that is elegant, and sometimes just a little alarming when it is being conducted just a metre or two away from the spectator. 

I was just as impressed by the high quality of the diction, especially when lines were being delivered at high speed. One gripping scene spring to mind, with a long series of words or short phrases fired away by one actor. They are  followed, without break, by the other actor firing away similar words and short phrases. The sequence reminded me of passages of stichomythia in Greek tragedy. 

It is quite some time since I encountered two young actors who dealt with difficult vocal and physical material with such skill.  The director certainly deserves high praise.

Agius and Paris may also deserve even higher praise, and not just for the technical aspects of the performance but also for the changing emotions that constantly coloured their voices, their faces, their bodies.

They might never actually perform anything as splendidly theatrical, so revealing of acting skill, as this play, but I certainly look forward to seeing more of their work.

The play has a strongly erotic charge, but Attard makes sure this is mainly confined to the dialogue. The physical aspects are not neglected, but never over-done.  The relationship between the two is sado-masochistic, the strongest  expression of which being in the scene where the Man says he is forcing a grenade into the Woman's body, and after teasing warnings, sets it off. In a later scene, the Woman does the same to the Man. 

Clearly, this is not a play for children or young adolescents, but most older people will probably not cringe.  With its descriptions of deadly duels between the Man and a huge sea-monster – or of the Woman's description of a tropical beach, where she imagines being stranded with the Man, and of the tsunami that later wrecks the beach – the author opens to our mind's eye the many scenes of epic wars and natural disasters provided us in hundreds of films. Ridley is reminding the audience that his two characters have been formed by show business, just as much as the rest of us.

Attard has gone a little beyond the author's stage directions for the stage.  In this production, designer, Romualdo Moretti has made the circular stage strongly suggestive of the sandy beach imagined by Woman. High above the acting space he has placed a tangle of dry branches which bring to mind the imaginary island.  The music is atmospheric but never intrusive, and Chris Gatt's lighting, as always, is just right.

I am certainly not sure I share producer Adrian Buckle's firm belief in the greatness of Ridley, but I must certainly accept that his gripping text and the strength of this production makes it a play not to be missed.

-Paul Xuereb, The Sunday Times of Malta, 9 February 2014



In-Napalm hu tahlita perikoluza ta’ pitrolju, gelatina u sustanzi ohra li jaharqu kull ma jsibu meta jigu sparati bhala bomba.  Kull min ghex fi zmien il-gwerra tal-Vjetnam jaf li hafna u hafna nisa u tfal inharqu u mietu meta sparaw ghal fuqhom din it-tahlita mxajjtna li qatlet mhux biss nies izda anke wesghat kbar ta’ foresti, djar, sigar u annimali.  F’kelma wahda n-napalm ifisser distruzzjoni totali ta’ nies u l-ambjent fejn joqoghdu.

 Is-Sibt 8 ta’ Frar kont qieghda fit-Teatru Tond tal-Kavallier ta’ San Gakbu biex nara play ta’ Philip Ridley li l-isem taghha hu TENDER NAPALM , xoghol profond hafna li jirrakkonta b’mod mhux tas-soltu kif l-imhabba bejn zewg ex-mahbubin giet fi tmiemha (Tghid ghall-dejjem? ) Imhabbithom jew it-tifkiriet taghha ghaddewhom minn ghadd ta’ episodji mhux kollha immaginarjili jistghu ihallu feriti serji jew addirritura jwasslu ghal mewt.  Ir-riflessjonijiet li jaghmlu huma dwar l-imhabba - li fil-percezzjoni umana ghandha tkun tenera u romantika - huma ghall-kuntrarju horox u mimlija hdura u kattiverja.  Iz-zewg atturi m’humiex specifikati - sempliciment imsejha Ragel u Mara – jitkellmu, jiggieldu, ihammbqu, jitghajru, jibku  u  jiftakru f’dak li ghaddew minnu u li wassal biex l-imhabba bejnierthom mietet, tifkiriet li jwasslu l-parti qerrieda ta’ imhabbithom,  Izda kien hemm ukoll l-aspetti iktar teneri li anke wasslu ghal demgha, bhat-tifkira tal-mewt tal-wild taghhom, fatt li wassal ghal mewt ta’ mhabbithom

 Bhal ma qal Kenji Miyazawa l-ugigh m’ghandniex inwarbuh izda ghandu jkun maghna biex nuzawh hajjitna kollha (We must embrace pain and burn it As fuel for our journey) u l-ugigh hu parti importanti u imponenti ta’ Tender Napalm, L-imhabba taf anke tkun kattiva u dan ix-xoghol jista’ jitqies bhala xoghol kattiv ghax onest u brutali.  Anke l-ftit mumenti teneri huma kattivi. u d-direttur Toni Attard kellu joqghod hafna attent biex iwassal il-pataflun ta’ emozzjonijiet li jghaddu minnhom iz-zewg protagonisti bravi hafna (kienu eccellenti u l-futur ghalihom ghandu jkun mill-isbah)  Ried jaghmel dan b’attenzjoni kbira u hawn kien mghejjun mill-kitba fenomenali ta’ Ridley li tkellem dwar l-imhabba minn angoli differenti.  Ghalih xejn sentimentalizmu , izda fatti li jghaddi minnhom kull mahluq li xi darba jew ohra kellu esperjenza ta’ mhabba – daqqa pozittivi, daqqa le, daqqa helwin, daqqa koroh u morri - insomma bhal ma hi hajjitna fuq kollox b’hafna inzul u tlajja bla waqfien. Attard ghazel li jdahhal hafna teatru fiziku fl-interpretazzjoni tieghu ta’ dan ix-xoghol.  Ghalkemm jitkellem dwar l-imhabba ftit li xejn fih xeni li jistghu jitqisu skabruzi minn xi uhud.  L-istrategija uzata mid-direttur kienet tirrefletti iktar l-ispirtu mill-fiziku.  Forsi l-iktar xena ‘erotika’ li rajna kienet meta z-zewg zghazagh kienu fuq xulxin waqt li r-ragel kien qed jipprova jdahhal grenade go fiha u iktar ‘il quddiem, hi rredikolat lilu u lil gismu bi kliem dispreggattiv.  Mill-bqija ftit li xejn eroticizmu, izda rectar serju u korjografikat minn Andre` Agius (MAN) u Bettina Paris (WOMAN) , zewg atturi zghazagh bi stamina kbira u b’ghazla wiesa’ ta’ emozzjinijiet tant li haqqhom kull tifhir.  Bhal ma jixraq li naghtu tifhir lil Toni Attard u l-lill-ajjutanti tieghu, Lizzie Eldridge u Sandra Mifsud, Flimkien ma’ RomualdoMoretti (set designer) Chris Gatt (Lighting designer) Sound design (Michael Quinton) u ohrajn , partikolarment lil Adrian Buckle u l-kumpanija tieghu Unifaun Theatre Productions


Joyce Guillaumier, It-Torca, 16/02/14

The Act of Once Upon a Somewhere


Detritus surrounds a square area in the middle of the theatre. Atop is a canopy of wild and tangled twigs. The two protagonists, a young Man and a young Woman, silent, wary, focused, size each other up and circumnavigate the perimeter of the stage, like two wild animals ready to pounce at each other, as the audience slowly trickles in. The theatre usher closes the door and all hell breaks loose.


Philip Ridley’s play is an hour and a half of Hegelian dialectic let loose on stage. Compromise and trade-offs are out of bounds as the two actors vent great vengeance and furious anger to a degree that at times it’s almost unbearable to watch. Intense elemental energy clutches the space in a vice, anecdotes are discharged with the potency of hand grenades  – but to what end?


Primordial tales of serpents and epic battles abound as Man and Woman each try to assert a past. They start off as abstractions, no names and no affiliations, just a bunch of stories that they are adamant to validate, ready to fight for with teeth and claws. And none is willing to give in an inch. We are dealing with archetypes, raw energy that needs to be moulded into a form and endorsed by an identity; and one cannot do it without taking out a hammer and an anvil and making lots of noise.


Sex and violence are the materia prima for this narrative of the self, a big bang alchemical fusion with brief moments of respite, to look at the (non-existent) view. Lucky for us, there is a great chemistry between the two actors, Bettina Paris and Andre Agius, because this is a play whose soul rests on a bed of polar tension. Creation & destruction. Love & hate. Loud & silent. Playful & violent. Cute & vile.


Which is also why Toni Attard directs Tender Napalm like a cage fight in a bedroom.  Ultimately, the central character is the space itself, a vessel full of savage fecundity in which Man and Woman can re-attain a wiser, more humane Eden. Or blow the universe to smithereeens.


The beginning was the end, the end is the beginning. No compromises. No trade-offs.


Noel Tanti, Nigredo's Room, 6 February 2014





Malta’s Unifaun Theatre give a confident rendering of Philip Ridley’s tale at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe


Tender Napalm, as its title suggests, is a piece characterised by the exploding, the sharp, the intimate, and the human sensitivity to pain. This fantastical two-hander written by Philip Ridley takes its characters through a series of increasingly elaborate pieces of storytelling in which giant sea serpents, armies of disenfranchised monkeys and entire worlds are summoned into being through the cracklings of poetry.

The production by Malta-based Unifaun Theatre sets two young performers on a thin layer of sand that flies into air when kicked and clings to their skin, like the performers to each other. The performances from Andre Aguis as Man and Bettina Paris as Woman are confidently realized, and the cast have no problem in highlighting the sexual undercurrent in Ridley’s script.

In SPINNING out their party-piece speeches, Aguis and Paris both show a keen skill with the sharpness of the language. However the whimsical tone that defines these linguistic acrobatics comes to characterise the rest of the performance as well, with the effect that it becomes less engaging later on, particularly when the tone of the piece itself shifts to a more muted kind of realism.

Elliot Roberts, The List, 14 August 2014




Tender Napalm is a two-hander by Philip Ridley, best known for his controversial 2005 play Mercury Fur. Its nameless pair — the script’s ‘Man’ and ‘Woman’ carry an Edenic flavour — kiss, argue, clutch each other, and brawl across the studio stage as they narrate stories. Some of these are fantastical, others less so; it is our role over the course of the play to piece together the truth.

Much of the initial perplexity clears up when we realise that they are narrating collaboratively, at times modifying but mostly adding to each others' accounts. The stories reduce to three; then, finally, to two. One of them involves a sea-serpent, a host of monkeys, a tsunami, an alien UFO, and the pair fighting for dominion of the island they are stranded on. Part of the pleasure of the play is hearing how they cleverly use words to weave their way out of fictional tangles.

The other tale is less extravagant, but contains, in one shape or another, all the building blocks of the first. While the first is told forcefully in the present tense, the second is remembered, assembled from hesitantly offered fragments of the past. We never find out their names, their ages, or where they are. These facts don’t really matter. What we do decipher, from moments in which they seem to crumble, is that their story-telling — vigorous, brimming with intensity and violence — is a kind of stay against an unbearable reality.

And, at last, we find out what that unbearable reality is. It’s easy to miss it, but one critical line, properly unravelled, explains all of Tender Napalm’s enigmas. What remains is the sorrow and the pain.


The production, by Malta’s Unifaun Theatre, is uniformly excellent. Actors Andre Agius and Bettina Paris are supremely talented; director Toni Attard and choreographer Sandra Mifsud deserve serious accolades for their work. Watching it is equal parts enthralling and uncomfortable, as it should be.

But, it isn’t entirely satisfying. The truth is there’s a very simple trick at the heart of Tender Napalm: the combination of love with violence. As in Mercury Fur, apparently a very different play, sadism and desire mingle precipitously, and it’s almost disappointing to see so similar a rhetorical strategy deployed to such divergent ends.


Napalm is one of the cruelest weapons. Survivors experience constant, excruciating pain. There is pain to loss, but it is not this kind. The indulgent oxymoron of the play’s title, finally, is untrue both to the unbearable event which drove the couple half-mad and to napalm’s tragic legacy. And once this is recognised, the play’s unabating intensity, its casual profanity, and its brutal sensuality (grenades stuffed into various orifices, in this case), are revealed to be what they have been all along: gratuitous and insubstantial, mere glazing in a story afraid to engage with real life.




Tender Napalm


A breathtaking production revealing the violent backdrop set against the relationship of two lovers. Upon entering the performance we witness the couple ardently kissing and feel almost as if we are intruding. The decision to use a thrust stage lay-out creates an intimate space and immediately a connection between the audience and the performers is made as we became immersed in their volatile world. Praise has to be given to the electric chemistry between the lead actors whose presentation of raw passion captivates audiences. Tender Napalm’s intensity is often relieved with bursts of playfulness which, at first, is uplifting but later proves harrowing as a darker undercurrent is revealed...A fearless and must-see production at this year's fringe. 

Bukky Lawal, Box Dust, 17 August 2014

Tender Napalm


One of the deadliest and most cruel weapons being described as ‘tender’ could be seen as strange but when placed in the context of the battle of love, pain and tenderness go hand in hand. Unifaun Theatre Company brings to light this endless chaotic battle through Phillip Ridley’s play Tender Napalm. Known for his risk taking works and in-yer-face style, Ridley’s play confronts the audience with an abode of lust, fantasy and agony whilst Toni Attard’s direction throws you right into the heart of the action.

As the audience enter we see two lovers writhing around on a sand covered floor, roughly yet intimately playing with one another’s faces. As they begin to talk a world of shipwrecked fantasy unfolds around them. Violence, sex and playful storytelling ensue, involving sea monsters, aliens, unicorns and war. It is never clear what is truth or what is fiction yet that is the beauty of the frenzied love affair they inhabit leaving the audience wondering whether they are truly stranded on this island or whether it was all a mirage.

Intimately staged with only a small performance space the audience is immediately invited to become part of it, part of the love affair and the island itself. From the offset this evokes an almost participatory position and at times a slightly uncomfortably close viewing point for the most intimate of scenes.

Andre Agius as ‘Man’ and Bettina Paris as ‘Woman’ do well to command every part of the small space they have although at times concentration was lost as words were stumbled upon and an unfortunately awkward struggle to change costume occurred.

The choreography and direction of the fight scene however was well executed with passion charging every movement and a real sense of urgency created. The language of Ridley’s script is both an attack and a caress that carries the play throughout complimented by the huge amount of energy and vigour that both cast members gave to their performances.

Overall the brutal yet poetic language of the play makes for a poison-laced love story, yet there is something missing. Perhaps it is the ending that is somewhat disappointing with the story amounting to a possible escape from grief losing the violent passion that the rest of the play holds. Or it could be the overly used technique of reincorporation mimicking the beginning to the end that lets it down. The play amounts to an enjoyable experience, but ironically misses the extra vibrancy and spark needed to evoke the lust for more.

Michelle Haynes, The Edinburgh Guide, 21 August 2014

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photos by Joseph A. Borg