by Bernard-Marie Koltès translated by David Bradby and Maria M Delgado.

Southwark Playhouse (The Vault) Shipwright Yard corner of Tooley St and Bermondsey St SE1 2TF To 30 July 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.

TICKETS: 020 7407 0234.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 16 April.

Vigorous view of culture clashes and the human condition.
Originating in the playwright’s brief time on an African construction site, Black Battles with Dogs (the title’s second word is best read as a verb) is a ferocious argument – discussion would be far too mild– around tensions in relationships. They’re familiar enough: old husband with young wife, boss and worker, White and Black. It’s a play, certainly in Alexander Zeldin’s production, that might have been made for Southwark Playhouse and its Vault space.

That’s despite a distancing effect between the chilly venue and the supposedly hot climate, or between the one tree standing out amid the brickwork and arches around, not to mention between African colours and Marc Williams’ stark shafts of white light, stabbing harshly through the dark. For the environment echoes the play’s stark manner.

Williams’ contribution is notable, from the start where a local African wanting to reclaim the body of a worker killed in an apparent industrial accident, and nervous Leonie, new from France, wanting reassurance from Horn, apparently to be her husband, both stand in the dark, or move to be silhouetted rather than revealed by the strong beams crossing the stage.

There’s talk, though it’s near impossible to track what the characters have been taking a hour to say (any action is suspended till the very end). But they’ve revealed themselves remorselessly in circuitous human anxiety and aggression.

Somewhat like Botho Strauss’s Big and Small, visiting the Barbican while Zeldin’s production is playing, the deliberate lack of a direct forward drive in what’s said makes its own point.

Horn, the boss, has learned how to placate local Africans – a death’s paid in money. But Alboury (the sole Black character is the only one certain of himself, Europeanising the play’s focus), wants the body and there’s a reason it can’t be given. With suppressed, anxiety-driven fury Paul Hamilton’s Horn tries forgetting the world outside the compound by focusing on a dice-game, as Joseph Arkley’s hitman descends into a torment of violence fuelled by fear, and Rebecca Smith-Williams’ Leonie, tottering on inappropriate shoes, slightly hunched, looks as awkward as she feels in Zeldin’s vigorous, punchy production.

Horn: Paul Hamilton.
Alboury: Osi Okerafor.
Cal: Joseph Arkley.
Leonie: Rebecca Smith-Williams.

Director: Alexander Zeldin.
Designers: Chloe Lamford, Katie Bellman.
Lighting: Marc Williams.
Sound: Sebastian Willan.
Movement/Associate director: Marcin Rudy.
Voice: Barbara Houseman.
Assistant director: Tanja Pagnuco.

2012-04-18 12:41:04

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