By Paul Moder and Natalia Ristovska. Until October 7.
It must take a special kind of bravery to attempt to tackle the worst of humanity's capacity for evil through the medium of strip-tease, but that's what this show tries to do. There's a scene in which an audience member is invited to participate in a lap-dance, and when he does so is met by a women playing a little girl who is ordered to undress for him. She's clearly unwilling and finding the experience traumatic. Much of the audience has been in a similar state for an hour or so by now. After all, we've had plenty of rape, shootings and guttings already, so we're repressing in advance the paedophilic imagery we're about to be offered. Thankfully on the night I attended the poor soul plucked from the crowd had given up being offended at this point, and issued a jovial “righto – arms up!” to his victim.
And how else are we to respond when the top-hatted and waist-coated M.C. solemnly instructs us to “lift your eyes from the girl in budding form, and free that which you can never possess...” With laughter, mostly.
Atrocity attempts to resuscitate the Grand Guignol, the Parisian theatre of graphic horror that aimed to aimed to shock the living daylights out of punters. And there's plenty to shock here, though it's a shocking show in several senses. Some sequences are genuinely accomplished, such as one involving a woman appearing to tear off her own flesh. Others, not so much.
I really didn't need to be subjected to real photos of the dismembered and brutalised victim of the infamous Black Dahlia case – if the aim of this production is to have it's audience look away in disgust, mission accomplished. But these real atrocities were matched by moments of almost deliberately awful hilarity: a woman in Muslim headscarf and dress does a strip-tease dance before an American soldier shoots her and bludgeons her to death. We ponder this, and the choices that led us here (to be sitting in this audience, specifically).
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of this production is its seriousness. Why are we supposed to feel complicit in these scenes of torture and terror? Why is this more important than the 'horrors' reproduced at your average theatre restaurant? Why is the M.C. singing a low-rent imitation of a 90s Nine Inch Nails song?
It's entirely possible that the grim, po-faced delivery of everything here is a put-on and that we're supposed to laugh. In a way this would be a pity, because the three female performers all show considerable talent despite the miseries they're asked to endure.
But in the end this is nasty, wrong-headed stuff inconsiderate of its audience and unclear of its intentions. I loved it for this and laughed uncontrollably, and I'm sure there's an audience looking for just that.