by Monim Wains
Bandages is not a play that covers up or protects. It is designed to rip off the mask and question you directly. With an intense and emotional exploration of control, image, abuse and violence, Bandages will leave you genuinely disturbed and uncomfortable, which is exactly what it wants to do.
The clearly heartfelt issues that are illustrated in the play, written and co-directed by Chloe Jacobs, are brought into a sharp focus in the Burton Taylor Studio. The small theatre space with a set in plain white leaves it completely to the actors to bring the lines to life, which they do incredibly well. Explorations of the characters’ memories and personalities stand at the centre of the entire play and everything but the bare minimum is stripped away from the set (designed by Sterre Barentsen), which at first sight reminded me of a sterilised surgical theatre.
The small cast of four each puts on a vivid performance, so much so that the beginning of the play manages to illustrate the violent confusion and anguish of Isabelle’s character (played by co-director Lou Lou Curry) without any dialogue. Throughout the play, there are purposeful periods of silence serving to highlight the subtle performance of each character. Ellie Cooper’s Dr Guild draws particular attention with a variety of expressions that show the character’s reactions and thoughts in a very natural way. Her portrayal strikes a perfect balance between condescending and knowledgeable.
The most remarkable feature of the play, however, is the plot itself. The premise of a young woman so bound by society’s expectations of beauty that she mutilates her own face should serve as an example of just how much the script does not hold back. From the very start, and at several points during the play, I found myself genuinely disturbed at the scenes being played out. My notes were, at multiple times, just expletives of shock. However, the messages being discussed are not at all forced or ham-fisted, but graphically put in front of the audience for consideration. With a realistic depiction of sickening events slowly revealed as Isabelle is guided through her memories by Dr Guild, you are shown the problems instead of being asked the questions.
The play switches repeatedly between the present and Isabelle’s memories of her past with her parents. Isabelle and her mother, Maddy, are both portrayed by the same actor, and though I was initially concerned that this would cause confusion, the clever lighting design and change in acting style made every transition clear and effective.
All of this is accentuated by the Burton Taylor Studio, which allows each actor’s expressions to be seen closely. When the play enters young Isabelle’s mind (played by Leanne Yau), the audience is taken into the memories of a scared and manipulated girl who is only a few metres away. Young Isabelle’s depictions of fear and self-loathing are heartbreakingly genuine. In these memories, Joe Stanton’s Eno maintains an intimidating and display of abuse and power without being artificial. The character is allowed only a little sympathy with a small amount of context, but this helps to keep the focus on the effects of his actions on Maddy and Isabelle, whose split acting reflects an unwanted heritage of problems.
Describing itself as a dark comedy, with scenes of brutal self-harm and distressing abuse, Bandages certainly covers the dark. Well-placed and well-acted quips from Dr Guild, and Isabelle’s rebellious streak, do, however, lighten the mood… until the power structure is upturned for a final confrontation at the very end.
Bandages is a heavy and complex 50 minutes with a powerful and skilfully executed performance from all. It is not easy to watch but is captivating for that very reason.
Bandages runs till Saturday 2 March at the Burton Taylor Studio at 7:30pm.