I will preface this review by saying the trigger warnings and age guideline for Bandages are there for a reason. This ‘dark comedy’ is not for the faint-hearted. In the opening scene, our troubled protagonist, 18-year-old Isabelle, played by Lou Lou Curry, takes centre stage, but for a tragic purpose: to mutilate her own face. Kneeling on the floor, only a couple of feet away from the front row of the audience, she takes out a knife from her bag. Her expression is a mixture of distress and determination. Comprising of only a few pieces of furniture wrapped in white sheets and red thread, the set surrounding her is like something out of a horror film – harsh, bleak and a cruel reflection of her plight. After a long moment of heavy breathing, Isabelle, at first hesitant, cuts her cheek, guiding the knife with the aid of a small mirror. Her ragged gasps ring out in theatre, the blood dripping from her face onto the floor beneath her. Without warning, the stage goes dark. So begins Bandages, the brainchild of student playwright, Chloe Jacobs.
Bandages is, more than anything, a character study. It offers its audience a candid glimpse into the psyche of a disturbed young woman, and explores what leads her to perform such a violent act of self-harm. Her tense, awkward and often angry conversations with her psychiatrist, Dr Guild, provide the foundation for the play and the scenes that unfold. After much probing from Dr Guild, Isabelle, her face now bandaged up beyond recognition, details her unhappy childhood and fraught relationship with her abusive parents (especially her mother, Meddy). The disturbing flashbacks from her past come alive, terrifyingly vivid. They are performed, rather than narrated, for us (along with the psychiatrist, always sitting silently in his chair off to the side of the stage) to observe, with something akin to morbid curiosity.
Where Bandages succeeds is in its hard-hitting, unromanticised portrayal of not only self-harm, but a variety of taboo subjects in addition. For example, in the re-enactment of scenes from Isabelle’s childhood, the horrors of a dysfunctional home environment are explored. For this, Joe Stanton must be singled out for his outstanding performance of Eno (Isabelle’s father) and the domestic abuse he inflicts on his family – it was definitely the most disturbing and realistic acting by a student I’ve seen in a long time. A scene in which Eno comes home drunk stood out to me in particular. It culminates in his attempted strangulation of Meddy, who collapses on the floor, as a younger Isabelle (played by Leanne Yau) watches on, crouching in the corner, terrified. After letting Meddy go, Eno laughs manically. His laughing fit lasts for several minutes, reverberating raucously throughout the theatre, continuing even after the scene switches back to the conversation between Isabelle and Dr Guild. Thus, the boundary between the past and the present is blurred: the echo of Eno’s laughter from all those years ago is deafening in the midst of their present conversation.
A final word must be said about the character switching throughout – specifically, how Meddy in the past and the older version of Isabelle in the present are both played by Curry. Curry’s act of switching was seamless, and can only be fully appreciated by watching her performance – with a swift turn of the head, she ‘becomes’ her own mother who inflicts the abuse on her younger self. This deliberate choice to have the same actor for both roles is highly effective; it invites an interesting discussion on the unparalleled closeness of mother-daughter relationships, and how this closeness can be toxic. There is a horrible irony in how Isabelle’s fate mirrors that of her mother, whom she despises (both end up with their faces mutilated, Meddy at the hands of Eno), and how she ‘becomes’ the abuser her mother was. The underlying message is clear: we are, irrevocably, our parents’ children, no matter how much we attempt to distance ourselves from them.
The final scene is of the younger Isabelle cutting her face in the same way as the older Isabelle at the beginning of play, and her arrival in the psychiatrist’s office. We have come full circle, the past and the present meeting, the older and younger Isabelle merging together in a wonderful employment of ring composition. I left the theatre with a heavy heart, still reeling somewhat from Isabelle’s story – and that is how I know ‘Bandages’ succeeded in what it set out to achieve.