Warning: references to mature content, domestic violence and abuse.
Damon and Chriss are in love. It’s a warped, macabre, dangerous kind of love, but it’s love to them. ‘Are we good for each other Damon?’ She asks. ‘It doesn’t matter, we’re right for each other’ comes the blinkered reply. Primrose Path doesn’t so much entertain as consistently repel to varying degrees for 90 minutes. They do say it’s better to get a strong reaction than a tepid one so in that respect, the production does well, but it’s far from easy or pleasant viewing.
The filming of Primrose Path isn’t archive footage from a live performance – Mannequin Mouth preserve their work after a run by filming it, without an audience, using handheld cameras to create a viewing experience specifically for film audiences rather than live audiences, championing wider accessibility in doing so. This means that India Howland and Will Pinhey’s direction documents the events with shots and angles which allow us much more intimacy with the actors than we’d experience in a stage space, making the extremes of the action and goading all the more disturbing for their unexpected close proximity.
Essentially, we’re in a room with a couple who test and torture for their sexual gratification. If there’s no cruelty or twisted role play involved, the pair can’t seem to get their kicks. Creating grim scenarios, they lure each other towards ever more depraved acts, desperate to test the level of possessiveness of the other. There’s no telling how long this dangerous duo have been together but as they don’t just have favourite scenarios to reminisce over but also favourite wounds to admire, it seems that the severe escalations we see have been a long time coming. Both Laura Jackson and Michael Hogg give fearless, full-throttle performances, never letting up for a second. To see them deliver such brutal material with such total investment is undoubtedly the most impressive element of this piece.
There’s almost a sense of a round of Cards Against Humanity having been a precursor to making a start on this piece which entertains more taboo subjects than you can shake a stick at. A pregnancy becomes a dangerous pawn. They break their own rules and suddenly they’re not the only ones in harm’s way. There’s soon a shift from depravity to criminality as the pair are for ever trying to dominate. It seems only through a joint enemy (the arrival of a Man – Samuel Nicholls) can they escape the maze of muddled scenarios they’ve created for themselves and even then the path is thorny and treacherous.
Over the course of the piece we see characters and scenarios merge and splinter by the minute and the mental state of the characters is almost constantly in question. How much is fetish and how much is bubbling psychosis? Their sense of reality seems to rely almost entirely on their desperation to feel at all costs. Pinhey’s script is also a bit of a splintered mish-mash; corny pornographic demands mixed with incongruous snatches of impressive deep-diving lyricism and the odd recognisable stint of a bickering couple – it’s an interesting and disturbing combination. Pinhey toys with expectations too, making Chriss far more invested in the violence of the games than Damon, but they match each other for hysteria and rage almost note for note.
The trigger warning list for Primrose Path is as long as your arm, which begs the question what exactly does this piece want to explore most? With such a high tally of shock tactics, perhaps the primary drive is simply to shock. If someone wrote up the audio description for this piece, the action alone could well clear a room. Factor in the script and it’s all escalation from start to finish and with that 90 minute running time, it does feel excessive and indulgent in places. But there’s no denying there’s an interesting psychological maze created across the piece, however grim that is to watch.
In short, if you’ve got a strong stomach and you’re interested in seeing how far a play can go and how impactful this approach to filmed performance is, take a dive into the dark side with Primrose Path. If however, you’re after something more uplifting for lockdown blues, maybe give this one a miss…
You can watch Primrose Path here. Mature content.
Photography and visuals by India Howland