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BWW Reviews: SKIN IN FLAMES, Park Theatre, May 14 2015

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A war photographer - gammy leg from a lump of shrapnel, run to fat after too long away from shooting the shootings, hands gloved like a thief's - rents a seedy hotel room in an unspecified Central American capital for an interview with a strangely spiky journalist. He's there to collect an award from (and lend his credibility to) an authoritarian regime teetering on the edge of collapse: she's there for, well, what exactly? Meanwhile, in another room in the hotel, another woman meets another man: she is desperate for news about her critically ill child; he, a United Nations apparatchik, wants a blowjob - again.

Guillem Clua's Skin in Flames (continuing at the Park Theatre until 6 June) is an exploration of power - political and personal - delivered in just over an hour, all-through in a 70-seater blackbox that puts us in the hotel room with the actors. With the two encounters running parallel, with occasional overlapping speeches to underline the connections between the stories, there's nowhere else to look, no escape from these inconvenient truths - at least for the Western men in the audience who are placed firmly in the dock.

Almiro Andrade is a big bear of a man, the photographer who has lived for too long off his (now two decades old) famous photograph of a girl, blown up by a bomb, the blast hurtling her towards the camera - alive or dead. Bea Segura's Hanna is confidently aggressive, her initially routine journalistic enquiries quickly shifting to more personal matters as she starts to relate a story of her own. Their slow recognition of the value in a marriage of convenience between a ruthless schemer and an opportunistic chancer, is a slow burner that you hate yourself for enjoying.

Altogether bleaker is the appalling exchange between David Lee-Jones's egregious Doctor Brown and Laya Marti's pathetic Ida, cruelly abused by the man she believes will save her daughter by destroying her. Lee-Jones is so convincingly manipulative that I half-expected someone to jump out of the audience and give him a right-hander - I nearly did myself! Marti is brilliant at conveying the emotional rollercoaster she rides, as much with the slump of her shoulders as with her words, however, she may be a little miscast, as it's hard to believe that an extremely beautiful woman with perfect English would have to settle for a 21st-century Pinkerton as her only hope even in that city.

This play deals with matters that we might prefer to wish away, but cannot. What actually goes on in states spawned by wars, that can only exist on the edge of anarchy, the difficult business of nation-building just too hard even to attempt? What does a photograph do its subject when the image metastasises into an icon? What limits actions when you have the power to get away with anything? I've a feeling that these two awkward couples will come to mind often over the next few years - Clua has achieved his first objective of making us stop and think. But now we must do... what?


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