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Extremities and the violent side of human nature

Theatre

A new Adelaide production of the controversial thriller Extremities asks audiences to consider if violence is ever acceptable, posing the question: If you could, would you play God?

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“I don’t want the type of theatre where you say, ‘Oh, that was a nice show’ and then go to McDonald’s,” says Tony Knight, former head of Australia’s National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA).

The director’s new production of Extremities – a play written in 1982 by William Mastrosimone and later turned into a film starring Susan Sarandon, Farrah Fawcett and James Russo – is certainly not that kind of play.

Exploring themes such as violence, revenge and moral degradation, it sees a woman named Marjorie assaulted by a stranger during a home invasion. She manages to subdue her assailant and reverse the situation – at which point the real “assault on the audience’s sensibilities” is said to begin.

The Adelaide performances of Extremities coincide with White Ribbon Day on November 25, with part proceeds being donated to White Ribbon Australia to help victims of domestic violence.

Knight tells InDaily that Extremities taps into Euripides’ ancient Greek tragedy The Bacchae, with its exploration of the opposing sides of human nature, and also the themes of author Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novel Heart of Darkness.

“…it’s the releasing of the beast. We’ve all got the capacity to kill. We’ve all got the capacity for extreme violence. Whether we do that or not is up to us.

“That’s why it [Extremities] is associated with something like The Bacchae – it discusses ritualistic bloodletting and how do we stop the blood from flowing.

“The play challenges you all the time. It asks: Would you kill? And could you kill? Would you play God?”

Knight says audiences at Extremities can expect a challenging and engaging night at the theatre.

He wants them to leave thinking about the ideas within the play: “the beast, the heart of darkness and violence itself”.

“I should note, it engages with female violence. Male violence is more direct; female violence is more indirect. Audiences should expect that.”

However, while the play is full of tension, it also has moments of dark humour.

Knight says the would-be rapist, Raoul, is funny, “in the same way that Shakespeare’s Richard III is a monster, he’s a murderer, he’s also funny. It’s a seesaw.”

He admits that the element of comedy, which he describes as “classic American wisecrack humour”, caught the Australian cast by surprise.

“We weren’t expecting it to be so funny. I’m milking it – if I see a gag, I’ll run with it.”

Mystique Productions and Tony Knight Acting will present Extremities at the Adelaide Festival Centre’s Space Theatre from November 23-26.

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