From the very opening, Tender Napalm twists like a bite to the lips. Within this play, both beauty and brutality lie close to one another. Love and hate, violence and tenderness, are the shared blade of a doubled-edged knife.
The players of Tender Napalm are an unnamed man and woman, played by Mark Healy and Carol Lawton respectively. Outside of the immediate narrative, much of the backdrop of the relationship history of these characters is left unspoken. Instead, it simmers under the surface tension of the push-and-pull of their power dynamics. The aftermath of tragedy lies underfoot as love, sexual desire, and violence play out between the characters. Their histories are gestured at but largely remain unspoken; even at the end, you do not know the precise details of what has happened to them. Healy and Lawton carry this tension in an incredibly dynamic, believable performance. There is a real feeling of deep connection between them, both of love and resentment. Their chemistry is such that, at times, the audience is like an eye through a keyhole; transgressively voyeuristic.
The tension of this play is masterfully maintained; the interplay of love and violence depicted is adversarial and uplifting at turns – but never boring. Just when the characters seem to have plumbed the depths of animosity, something softens. Similarly, tenderness is turned to confrontation in moments. Raw emotion is tempered with biting humour. 80 minutes goes swiftly. There is a tangible sense that Healy and Lawton sunk their teeth into the meat of their roles, and it is a delight to watch. Lawton brings a pleasingly vicious delight to moments of savagery that have men in the audience crossing their legs. Healy especially impresses; the honesty of his acting during some of the play’s quieter and more emotional moments is riveting to behold.
At times Tender Napalm is uncomfortably, unflinchingly vivid, in others it is tenderly, poetically beautiful, but it is gripping in all moments. The play closes the way it opened, on a man and a woman in a quiet embrace. This is what it means love, to hold, to hate; “a bullet between the lips… without breaking a single tooth”.
Words by Taeghan Buggy
Tender Napalm runs from the 19th to the 29th of June at Holden Street Theatres. Tickets and times can be found here.