Review: Wretch – Mercury Theatre Studio, Colchester

Better the devil you know. But when that devil is in ourselves, and a dark inner demon that leads us down a tortured road, is it wise to listen to that voice?

Gari Jones’ solo show is a dark, abrasive examination of the inner voice of a deeply disturbed individual. How much is real, how much is fantasy – a product of the disturbed mind – is subject to question.

Peering into this mind is never a clear view, a view reflected in the opening scene of Jones taunting his audience through a wall of plastic, distorted and partially hidden. The plastic is soon ripped apart, slashed with a knife to reveal a squalid room and an equally squalid man. It is a confrontational start to a relentlessly confrontational play that never lets its audience relax. Drug abuse, self harm, cross dressing, auto-erotic asphyxiation, and physical violence all feature heavily.

Is this one man, a montage of men, or indeed is the man even real at all? Wretch doesn’t provide easy answers and in many ways that is how theatre should be, but here while you admire the strength of the performance the end result is as hollow as the dark eyes that stare out at the audience.

The ability of theatre to shock and offend is a powerful tool and can be wielded with real impact. In Wretch however, one often feels that it is shock for shock’s sake and the relentless brutality would have been better served with more light and shade rather than the continual onslaught. There are attempts at comedy interjected; surreal karaoke interludes, but these only serve to drive the narrative down a darker, twisted route.

The relentless depravity could work if the writing was stronger to support it; however Jones’ script lurches from subject to subject so much that it’s difficult to ascertain what we are supposed to take from it. The combined role of writer, director and performer needs a ruthless editorial streak but here it looks like Jones’ hasn’t had the courage to step back from his monster creation to question the choices made.

Vanja Sheremetkoski’s projections onto Amy Yardley’s filthy set add some depth to the piece and are well executed but, ultimately, they serve to highlight the fragmentary nature of the rest of the piece.

Jones does deliver a performance of chilling intensity, a man both held together and torn apart from the voices in his mind, but we never really get to understand the man behind the barrage of words. The promotional material gives two definitions of Wretch; a despicable person or a person pitied for his misfortune. Sadly we never really get to examine this duality in a production that offers much but ultimately is as obscured as the filthy windows the protagonist peers through.

Originally written for The Public Reviews

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