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It's a scene many might be familiar with, two college friends in their 20s who spend their time not working, taking drugs and light-heartedly winding each other up.
But Anthony Neilson’s play Penetrator drops a bomb into that worry-free existence, when soldier Todge reappears on the scene. Fresh from serving in the Afghan War, he’s convinced he’s being followed by a secret service named after the title of the play.
The 1993 play was perfect for new Brighton-based theatre company Mayem Productions, who were introduced to it by a friend.
“It’s still relevant to today,” says Max O’Donoghue, who plays one of the two sofa-bound friends Alan.
“There’s a good strong storyline which tackles a lot of issues – including mental health and friendships. There’s a lot of different conflicting things that the characters have to deal with.
“We were looking through scripts trying to find something for three actors to do. All the characters are complex and fully thought out, with a lot of humour.”
Mayem was put together by O’Donoghue, long-time friend and drama graduate Frank Leon and Warren Saunders, who met Leon in productions for Brighton’s New Venture and Little Theatres, including this year’s Biloxi Blues.
“There are a lot of good plays being performed in different places,” says O’Donoghue. “But at the same time quality drama is in short supply. We really hope to inspire other people.
“We wanted to set up something that would reignite interest in theatre, or get people more involved. There are a lot of actors in Brighton who don’t have access to places where they can perform.”
Neilson is an advocate and practioner of the 1990s fashion for in-yer-face theatre, which makes it perfect for an intimate space such as Upstairs At Three And Ten where there is nowhere for the audience to hide.
“We wanted to create a claustrophobic atmosphere,” says O’Donoghue.
“The pace is really important. The play is quite biting, but there’s a lot of humour. It’s about finding the balance between the humour and the dark realism of the play.
“We have had a lot of rehearsals to really bring out the characters. We’re still finding new things out about them.”
The production was originally staged Upstairs At Three And Ten in July, with all shows selling out. The company decided to return to the play to allow more people to see it, and have reworked the production in rehearsals at the Dukebox theatre space at The Iron Duke, in Waterloo Street, Hove.
O’Donoghue says both spaces have been really supportive, helping both with promotion and rehearsals.
Plans for the future include a new devised piece, which Mayem hope to bring to the Brighton Fringe in May.
- Pentrator is at Upstairs At Three And Ten, Steine Street, Brighton, from Tuesday, November 27, to Thursday, November 29. Starts 7.30pm, tickets £8/£6.50. Call 07800 983290
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