Review: Is Dea The Most Extreme Play London Has Ever Seen?

Dea, Secombe Theatre ★★★☆☆

Tom Bolton
By Tom Bolton Last edited 15 months ago
Review: Is Dea The Most Extreme Play London Has Ever Seen? Dea, Secombe Theatre 3
Helen Bang in Dea. Image (c) Rob Knight.

Genuinely shocking theatre is usually to be found at places like the Royal Court. Not many people go to the Secombe Theatre in Sutton looking for trouble, but there is plenty on offer in Edward Bond's world première, Dea.

In Bond's own words “Edward Bond is internationally regarded as the UK's greatest and most influential playwright”. So why is he directing his new, epic drama at one of London's more obscure theatres?

While Bond is a sage abroad, he is shunned in Britain. Once he graced the biggest stages in the country, notorious for plays such as Saved, with its notorious baby-stoning scene. Now he scorns the mainstream, and tells the press that if the National or the RSC did his work “it would be rubbish”. The feeling seems to be mutual.

Bond's new offering may be so far off-West End it is almost in Surrey, but it packs a serious punch. Dea is a sequel of sorts to Medea. This means that terrifying child killing climax of Euripides's play happens at the start.

From then on it's a helter skelter descent through social, sexual and military brutality, set somewhere between the first world war and Iraq. There is murder; there is rape; there is incest; there is necrophilia; there is dismemberment. There is male nudity the like of which you will not see on any other London stage. There is no female nudity though, which is almost as daring. Nevertheless, Mary Whitehouse would have imploded.

But Dea is not just a shock-fest — the play is a deep, poetic, complex investigation of the condition of 21st century society. It's the kind of play that only Sarah Kane has attempted over the last 20 years. The heroic cast make the toughest material compelling, totally convincing as a bunch of brutalised squaddies. And Bond has created a spectacular new part for a woman. If you think Medea is a demanding role, just watch Helen Bang tearing magnificently through three hours of genre-shredding, audience-baiting, rhetorical drama.

So far, Dea has not been a roaring success. Ticket sales seem low, and some reviews have been damning. However, Dea is absolutely the best reason to come to Sutton. For anyone who wishes for more difficult, adventurous, new writing outside subsidised theatres, this is it.

To quote Bond's inimitable programme notes, “I write of the rape of a corpse with a beer bottle to bring back dignity to our theatre”. Does he succeed? Make the trip to Sutton to decide.

Dea is on at the Secombe Theatre, 42 Cheam Road, Sutton CM1 2SS, until 11 June. Tickets are £16 (£14 concessions). Londonist saw this performance on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 07 June 2016