SEArED in association with the Arcola Theatres stages the first major London revival of Dennis Potter’s most controversial play. Renowned for being banned before transmission by the BBC, Brimstone and Treacle‘s glimpse into suburban paranoia, xenophobia and insularity is as revealing and relevant today as it was in the 1970s.
North London, Summer, 1977. As a nation prepares to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee, a middle-class, middle-aged couple struggle to come to terms with the incapacitation of their daughter following a hit-and-run car accident. Out of nowhere, an apparently respectable young man arrives on their doorstep to change their lives forever…
A twisted allegory about fear, faith, morality, and the incomprehensible randomness of good and evil.
Company: Rupert Friend, Matti Houghton, Tessa Peake-Jones, Ian Redford
Writer: Dennis Potter
Director: Amelia Sears
Brimstone and Treacle was performed from 2nd May to 2nd June, 2012
Rupert played the role of Martin Taylor. Using the words of exeuntmagazine.com, “In Martin – played with incredible subtlety and strength by Rupert Friend – we see human evil at its worst, a man who capable of inflicting pain with sing-song glee and a coating of charm. From the outset, Potter (director) makes sure the audience aren’t mere passive observers to all this; Martin’s knowing glances and asides take us into his confidence as he sets about further ruining the Bateses’ already hopeless lives, and force us to ask why we’re unable to do anything about it. We’re further unsettled by the eventual conclusion that every outrage might actually be necessary; why intervene when evil can have positive consequences?”
Friend has come to the conclusion that Martin’s confusions are also partly the result of sexual abuse. And, while the original objection to the play was that the girl’s recovery is presented as a warped miracle, director and cast have explored with neurologists the possibility that the girl’s silence and paralysis were caused by trauma rather than brain damage, and so were potentially reversible by a further shock. Experts on satanism have also come into the rehearsal room to help Friend explore whether Martin is or isn’t the devil; in the stage version, there is no giveaway glimpse of his feet. “I don’t want to give too much away,” Friend says, “because I think Potter intended the ambiguity. But we have explored in great depth the psychological reasons why someone might think they were the devil.”
Unaware of the play before he was offered the role, Friend says he was not particularly shocked by the content: “It reminded me of [Pedro] Almodóvar’s film Talk to Her, in which a man rapes a comatose woman.” He argues that it is important the play not be reduced to a single, brief, controversial scene. “When I’m doing it, I mustn’t think about it as That Scene. I would find it very debilitating to put neon quotation marks around that moment. The play has to be a whole journey. It’s clear that some of the company find the idea of the scene uncomfortable, but I just can’t.”
Rupert on his role and the story for theguardian.com
The big draw is Rupert Friend, an actor with limited professional stage experience but plenty of film credits to his name (Pride and Prejudice, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, The Young Victoria). As Martin, the Satan of suburbia, he is impressively chilling.
Evening Standard’s review
The artist Lorna May Wadsworth made a series of portraits dedicated to this play. In them, the artist tries to capture the character played by Rupert Friend. The portraits adorned the Arcola Theatre during re-staging of Brimstone and Treacle.
The piece explores in pictorial terms the character that Friend will shortly be bringing to the stage at the Arcola Theatre in East London, in Dennis Potter’s dark masterpiece Brimstone & Treacle. One of the most controversial plays written by Potter, it was commissioned by the BBC in the 1970’s, but was banned from airing by the censors just days before its scheduled transmission owing to its discomforting content.
Artist Lorna May Wadsworth, whose sitters have included Tony Blair, Lily Cole and Margaret Thatcher, approached Rupert Friend when she saw him recently at Columbia Road Flower Market, telling the actor that she had wanted to collaborate with him on a portrait for some time.
Intrigued by the dramatic themes Lorna has bought to recent work such as her modern interpretation of The Last Supper, an altarpiece for a church in the Cotswolds, Rupert sat for Lorna when he was in the process of immersing himself in the shadowy character of Martin Taylor. This creatively fertile environment led the pair to embark on a series, which delves into Taylor’s internal conflict and slippery persona. As a result each piece of each portrait, broken into dystopic panes, reflects Wadsworth’s and Friend’s commentary on the process of portrayal, bringing to life a new look into the dark soul of Potter’s malevolent character.
Wadsworth paints from life, “I thrive on the engagement and collaborative nature sitters bring to my work.” She takes inspiration from Old Masters including Caravaggio and Rembrandt, and gestural expressionist painters such as Auerbach and De Kooning. A predominant theme within her work is fragile male beauty painted from a uniquely female perspective.
The piece will be on display in the Arcola Theatre throughout the play’s run, which is widely anticipated to be the hottest ticket in town. So it seems that theatre-goers looking forward to a glimpse of the film star Rupert Friend’s dark side in the Arcola Theatre’s upcoming staging of the controversial London revival will get more of the leading man than they bargained for with the price of admission.
More photos of Rupert as Martin Taylor and related to his work on Brimstone and Treacle clicking here.