Manon/Sandra

Wed 29th April – Sat 2nd May 2015

reviews

Jack McNichol

at 02:10 on 30th Apr 2015

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“Manon needs God to speak to her. Sandra needs to fuck somebody.” With a tagline like that you know that a show is going to be, at the very least, provocative. And this intense burst of a production, lasting less than an hour, is certainly that. But it is also a thoughtful, moving and compassionate portrayal of two women on the margins communicating their extraordinary experience.

Entering the auditorium, the audience is faced with a set which will not change for the duration of the play, and the two characters who will occupy it. Constructed in perfect symmetry, on one side is Mannon, played by Clara Strandhoj. Buttoned up all in black, the furniture around her is austere, a statue of Mary the only ornament. On the other is Sandra, portrayed by Jamie Webb, draped onto a chaise longue and dressed in the shortest, and most transparent, of white dresses. The structural antithesis of Mannon’s Mary-figure is Sandra’s full-length mirror, a piece which provides wonderful flashes of visual interest as the play develops.

As this brief introduction may have suggested, this is not a play to wear its symbolism lightly. However, the exploratory journey along which we are guided by the two characters’ interwoven monologues disrupts, distorts and overturns wonderfully the stark, binary opposition constructed by the play’s visual element. Strandoj’s Mannon writhes in spiritual ecstasy, reveals her desires to caress the body of Jesus, does things with rosary beads which definitely won’t be found in the instruction manual. Webb’s witty, assertive, sexually aggressive Sandra strips away the make-up, articulates a profoundly dislocated sense of self, takes us back to her time as a frightened child who pretended to be brave in order to appear brave in the eyes of others.

Each performance was utterly compelling. After the first ten minutes, which were frequently punctuated by roars of laughter as Sandra talked us through the details of her erection and exactly what she intended to do with it, the audience sat in reverential silence. This was a play that constantly pushed its characters to the very edge. ‘I can make demands too’ cries Mannon, the desperate, scorned lover of Christ; ‘My cock commands me’, asserts Sandra with the utmost seriousness, constructing a quasi-religious ritual out of the sexual act, brimming with disturbing symbolism.

These two figures, by living their lives to the utmost extremes, become, through juxtaposition, a profound test case for what it is to be human. Their humanity seeps through and eventually floods out of the cracks in their caricature personas, as they explore what it is to desire, to feel isolated and adrift in the world. Laura Batey, the show’s director, has triumphed in bringing such a complex and exciting piece of drama to the ADC.

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