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Stealing Souls.
The Review Page

Below are the critics views of the April 1996 Red Room production of Stealing Souls.

Judy Upton's hallucinatory Stealing Souls, directed with effective simplicity by Shabnam Shabazi, is a tasty little treat, demonstrating just how satisfying the one-act play can be in experienced hands.

It is the early hours of the morning in Rio. Vince, an English photographer, is a pain in the neck with a bad pain in his tooth. The emergency doctor who arrives to treat him is female, smart and a little nervous. A strange intimacy develops. He talks about his work, showing the photos he takes for German mens' magazines, and tells her proudly of the 14-year-old Brazilian girl he had an affair with 20 years previously.

The doctor eats rice pudding, tries to pull his tooth and as past catches up with present administers a little revenge along with the morphine.

The writing is diamond hard, slippery and clear like thin ice covering a particularly murky pond.  The play is barely an hour long but while you watch it time seems to stand still and makes you feel that you have stayed up all night and watched the cold dawn break.

Lyn Gardner - The Guardian

Judy Upton's Stealing Souls, the second half of a double bill of "hallucinatory theatre" at the Red Room, is an exceptional short play with a hit like morphine: slow in the build-up, but packing an all the more effective punch for that.

Vince, an English photo-journalist hack, is marooned in a hotel room in Rio with raging tooth-ache.  The emergency doctor is called, and whilst she doesn't have much experience in pulling teeth, she might still be able to put Vince out of his misery.  Vince works for German men's magazines, taking photos of Brazilian girls.  He had an affair years before with one of his models, the 14-year-old lneche, and is still haunted by his memories of her that he captured on slides he shows to the doctor.  She is both horrified and fascinated by what he tells her, and gradually the two are drawn into a kind of show-down armed with the tools of their trades: a camera versus morphine and a pair of pliers.

The power games that the doctor and Vince play are built up subtly. The doctor wants Vince in the chair so she can pull his tooth; Vince wants the doctor to sit and eat first, so she does, even though he cannot bear to watch a woman eat for the intimacy it betrays. He pulls out his camera and starts taking photographs of her, refusing to tell her whether there is a film inside. She warms to modelling, and is almost too comfortable in that role for him to bear.

Shabnam Shabazi directs all this with exceptional and powerful simplicity, and the colours of the design (by Roswitha Gerlitz) mirror the tensions in the drama.  At first they are seemingly warm and inviting, but gradually you realise that this room is, metaphorically at least, no more than a brothel.

The dialogue is beautifully laden with meaning, subtle and witty. And if the monologues by Vince that dramatise each jolt into his catharsis occasionally jar, it is more as a contrast to the power of the prior exchanges between the two.  But most of all, this is a production graced by exemplary performances from two actors very well-cast.

Tom Marshall's extensive repertory experience must have steeled him well for the jaded Vince.  He is superb, radiating a haggard world-weariness that still cannot prevent the rawness of his feeling rising by the end. He is matched by an extraordinary performance by Raquel Cassidy as the doctor. Seemingly with less to do, the rising tension within her is mirrored in her reactions to Vince, and her presence anchors the whole piece. The transformations she undergoes may be surprising, but she is never less than utterly convincing.

The extensive collaboration between the Red Room and Judy Upton is certainly bearing fruit, if this latest production is anything to go by.  The partnership continues with Sunspots in the upcoming Guinness Award season. But in the meantime, make sure you see Stealing Souls.

Tassos Stevens - What's On 17/4/96

Vince is in agony: his tooth needs pulling in the small hours of a Sunday morning in Brazil.  Whether or not he deserves Maria's emergency dental room service - which might either relieve or exacerbate his suffering - is the question that recurs at the heart of Judy Upton's pointedly surreal dramatic dialogue. Raquel Cassidy's strobe-lit entry as Maria, the cut of her tight white hospital smock and the height of her heels, provide the first clue that this will be no ordinary doctor-patient relationship. In fact as the moaning English international photographer with toothache treats her to a nostalgic slideshow, the possibility looms of her being his long-lost and most-adored pubescent 14-year-old model.

Director Shabnam Shabazi focuses on the claustrophobic tension of the couple s contested powerbase. There's much skill in the craft with which the writing organises and illustrates the shifting balance between the appearance and the reality of the characters' situation. That said, the Vince s nemesis remains oddly unaffecting, perhaps because Tom Marshall struggles with the crucial switch from physical to emotional torment. Raquel Cassidy's parallel move from cautious professionalism to calculated vengeance works better, but the artfulness of her predicament excites admiration rather than compassion. Neither character seems to have enough heart to have ever really had a soul for the stealing. It's a brief piece of brittle intricacy.  

Charles Godfrey-Faussett - Time-Out 17-24/4/1996

The Review Pages:
[Everlasting Rose] [Ashes and Sand] [Temple] [The Shorewatchers' House] [Bruises] [Stealing Souls]
[Sunspots] [People on the River] [To Blusher with Love] [The Girlz] [Know Your Rights] [Confidence]
[The Ballad of a Thin Man] [Sliding with Suzanne]

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