REVIEW – Poena 5×1




Although intended as a frivolous piece of satire, Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange covered a wide range of important areas. Most importantly, for me, was the idea of punishment – why do we do it? Rehabilitation – is punishment effectively a cure for evil? Retribution – do we do it for a sick moment of catharsis, watching those we hate suffer? Or a deterrent – is it merely a reasonable means of keeping society in check, to stop it happening again? In Abbie Spallen’s dark and mesmerizing one-woman play, directed skilfully here by Robert Shaw, these ideas are satisfyingly explored even further.

Cathy Conneff gave a masterful performance as Bryony Adams – a government scientist with, apparently, strong ideals. It’s difficult to pinpoint the premise; it began as a lecture with case notes, the purpose of which was almost a justification for a new government-funded drug. But it got personal, and blended into a confession – with the occasional slip into a raw stream of consciousness. The transitions were seamless; occasionally I felt like this wasn’t anything concrete at all, but an abstract view of Bryony’s subjective experience. After all, we know how common it is to run past events over in our mind; convincing – sometimes deluding – ourselves that we’ve done the right thing.

I won’t give too much away but, as mentioned above, the concept of punishment is a central theme. Unsurprisingly, ethical dilemmas occur; the government-funded drug, Poena 5×1, is intended as a “humane punishment” for those prisoners who show remorse. Bryony Adams tells us of her role in the production, and the morally ambiguous actions she later took. We learn that, perhaps, she may be subjected to the form of punishment that she developed. It sounds predictable, but the unpredictable nature of Bryony’s character – helped by Conteff’s flawless performance – kept me wondering all the way through.

The venue, Underbelly’s Med Quad, was perfect. I can imagine it’s difficult, at the Fringe, to find a venue that’s absolutely ideal for your production. But this was a perfect match, and it happened to be a typical lecture hall. Surrounding us were speakers, out of which came eerily cyber-noir music and, when it got tense, inaudible whispers. The whispers brought to life the paranoia that Poena supposedly brings about, and the paranoid experience of being in Bryony’s mind.

It’s easy, in a piece such as this, to look for some sort of meaning. What’s it trying to say – which side is it on? In asking these questions you’d be wasting your time, because it’s the play that does the asking.


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