Mens Rea (Oxfringe)

Sat 9th – Sun 10th June 2012

reviews

Hyunwoo June Choo

at 11:35 on 10th Jun 2012

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In matters of sex, intentions can mean more than the words themselves. In “Mens Rea”, Andrew Jenkins and Benjamin Schaper illustrate this elasticity of dialogue by a series of replays where the speech stays the same, but which differ in all other ways. Whilst the premise of this experimental piece is intriguing, there is an aura of complacency lingering in the theatrical performance that diminishes the artistic quality of the whole.

The presentation of “Mens Rea” resembles a deductive science experiment, where the verbal dialogue is held as the control variable; the script remains unchanged across all three scenes, as do the actresses. In continuing the analogy, the independent variable is the male partner, who, with his individual mannerisms, imparts unique meaning to his speech, and ultimately to the entire context of the sexual relationship, from an abusive to a mutually playful one.

Though the scenes piece together nicely in retrospect, the quality of the immediate presentation was not exactly satisfactory. The long sentence constructions and bombastic syntax did not help prevent the dialogues from sounding like recitations - nor were stumbles and poor articulations absent. At one point, the leading lady (Catherine Haines) was short of breath saying her lines—the frequent incoherence in delivery not only detracts from proper conveyance of the message but also discredits the authenticity of the situation.

Thankfully, this problem belongs primarily to the first scene, and the following scenes progress with much more ease due to the audience's increasing familiarity with the dialogue. It is as if the actors knew that these lines would be repeated, and relying on the second and third chance, did not take care to enunciate with proper pace in the first.

The script may have been a difficult hurdle, but the actors morphed into respective characters quite impressively. Haines in her matching bright red lipstick and dress maintained her main femme fatale allure while still exposing different sides to her persona with changes in partners. Praise similarly goes to Julia Hartley, who plays the oblivious intruder next door, displaying dynamic ranges of mood shifts across scenes. The third scene received the highest positive feedback from the audience, and it can be attributed to ingenious directorial decisions and the corresponding acting prowess from these two female leads.

The play makes an interesting point of how nonverbal language—body, intonation, inflections, etc—can confer different meanings behind a sexual relationship. This could have been applied to virtually any theme, not specific to sex, so the method in which the script is toyed with can strike one as either creative or inauthentic. “Mens rea,” or “the guilty mind,” puts forward an important point: even with full evidence of dialogue it is impossible to retrace what actually happens in an intimate relationship.

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