Max Harrison directs the tenth anniversary production and the first major London revival of Philip Ridley’s Tender Napalm, and is presented at the recommendation of Philip Ridley himself, after seeing Lidless Theatre’s acclaimed 2018 production of Moonfleece at The Pleasance Theatre – bringing with it cast members Jaz Hutchins and Adeline Waby.
Two lovers. A desert Island. Sea serpents. UFOs. Tsunamis. Unicorns. Atomic bombs. What is this thing…called love? This brutal yet tender two-hander explores the heights and the depths of a romantic relationship through a series of narrative threads, ranging from the fantastical to the hallucinatory. Delving into the most primal human emotions – raw, visceral and dangerously honest.
Tender Napalm is The King’s Head Theatre 26th October to 20th November 2021.
You’re directing Tender Napalm at The King’s Head Theatre, what can you tell us about the play?
I don’t want to give too much away, the play twists and turns, shocks and surprises, and I want to keep as much of that intact as possible. But what I can say is that it’s a spectacle, it has games, fantasies, monologues, battles, songs, a dance, combat, wordplay and naturalism, all against the backdrop of one very real and very truthful relationship.
Man and Woman love each other, and express that love in games, they play with each other. But there’s a shadow to the play, a deeper current to their games, that slowly begins to work its way to the surface…
How did you become involved in this production?
Philip Ridley and I did Moonfleece together back in 2018. It was received really well. Jaz and Adeline were both in that production. Jaz had a role in it that demanded similar skills to what Tender Napalm demands: big monologues, fast storytelling, and humour. Phil recommended Tender Napalm as a new collaboration.
I had worked with Adeline a lot before and have seen the emotional range and impact she has as an actor. I knew that she’d easily tap into that ‘shadow’ that the play has. And so here we are, post pandemic and three years later.
What was it about Philip Ridley’s script that made you so keen to direct the 10th anniversary revival?
It’s a challenge for the actors. And for me. And for the movement director, Sam Angell. It demands a lot of everyone involved. There is a lot of text, some of it long and tricky, and a section that has 10 pages of one-word actions thrown back and forth like a comic book strip. In short, we relished the challenge. Plus, the story is so beautiful, poetic, and human, it really spoke to me on that level.
How have you approached directing this production of Tender Napalm?
I am currently studying with Mike Alfreds, (National Theatre / Shared Experience). It is a process orientated rehearsal where we block the play as little as possible. This means that as a director I am focused on giving Jaz and Adeline the greatest amount of freedom possible each night to go with what each other is giving.
We set very clear parameters, such as character, objective, action, and style, and then within these boundaries they are able to go wherever their impulses take them. This assumes that something that impulsively comes from an actor’s subconscious is always going to be more interesting, more moving, more human, than something we ‘set’ in a rehearsal room three weeks ago.
What has surprised you the most about the way the cast are responding to the play in the rehearsal room?
Just how much the freedom they have has impacted their spontaneous choices. They are really flying with it. We’ve also been exhausted. More by this than anything we’ve rehearsed before, ever. It’s a mammoth play and we’ve really been getting to grips with quite how much it demands from everyone in terms of intensity, focus, and energy.
What would you say to anyone thinking of coming to see Tender Napalm?
Buckle up. It’s a rollercoaster ride and you have no idea what to expect. The King’s Head Theatre will be completely transformed and will be pretty much unrecognisable. It’s also a very moving play, it touches on grief, loss and violence and the audience needs to be prepared for that. It takes us to a desert island, space, and under the sea… so come ready, open, and engaged. It’s one hell of a ride.
Tender Napalm directed by Max Harrison runs 26th October to 20th November 2021 at The King’s Head Theatre.