Online – Production company’s Website
Primrose Path plunges you straight into the depths of a tumultuous relationship. The performance centres on Chriss and Damon, a couple who are dedicated to ‘playing’; testing the limits of physical and mental pain in their quest to know each other as deeply as possible. As this dangerous ‘play’ unravels throughout the performance and the acts committed become more and more extreme, the audience becomes uncomfortably aware of the potential consequences. Initially, the dialogue holds lots of references to ‘rules’ and ‘turns’, but these are continually broken until the two are left with nothing to fall back on.
The play was filmed after its live run and put online as part of theatre company Mannequin Mouth’s aim to combat the limitations in the accessibility of theatre. This method of filming is perfect for capturing the visceral, bloody experience that is Primrose Path. The white floor becomes sticky with blood, and the actors are streaked with it. Watching, you can almost taste the iron in your own mouth. Plus, the fake blood and bruises are convincing enough to translate onto film without distracting from the experience.
There are moments of brutal, startling honesty throughout, the stark white stage-lights illuminating those parts of relationships that usually remain hidden. Something Primrose Path does extremely well is to tap into unhealthy yet common behaviours and display them on a large scale. Lines like “I hate the fact that you’ve f**ked anyone else” allude to natural jealousy, but are exaggerated and amplified through the play’s physicality. The strangeness of the central relationship is particularly exposed by the introduction of a third character, a kind neighbour who hears the frequent shouting and tries to intervene. Although he finds he cannot help them, his perspective of normality contrasts with the world Chriss and Damon have created, just as it begins to fall apart.
The play culminates with a particularly chaotic scene as their brutality peaks, complete with vibrant blue lighting and a dreamy synth soundtrack, then cuts straight back to the original white lighting, the stage a mess from the various injuries Chriss and Damon have inflicted. The show ends in total blackout, leaving the viewer to consider what they’ve just witnessed.
Perhaps Primrose Path focuses too much on gory and violent elements, at the expense of greater emotional depth, but the script is extremely well written and packs in scenes reminding us of the characters’ humanity, even while we watch them destroy each other. A particularly effective example comes towards the end of the performance, where Chriss and Damon list things that they know about themselves, almost as a reminder of where they started, now that things have gone so far.
There are some issues with sound – the cast are not miked, meaning that some of the softer spoken parts are a little indistinct, but this is a minor point which does not detract from the overall experience.
Primrose Path does an excellent job of depicting the complexities of an abusive, all-consuming relationship in a visceral and shocking way. Proceed with caution, especially if you’re affected by domestic violence. If you can handle it, the show tackles some crucial themes that you’ll be thinking about for nights after that final blackout.
Written by: Will Pinhey
Directed and produced by: India Howland and Will Pinhey
Originally performed at: Exeter and Edinburgh Fringe Festival.