The Worst Thing You Could Do is mesmerizingly perplexing, an intriguing and thought-provoking experience.
The trilogy consists of three separate short plays performed by Rhiannon Bird and Jon Berry written by budding playwright, Lily Kuenzler.
The first play, titled The Worst Thing You Could Do, features both actors. Berry sits upon a chair, a wretched lonely man, disturbed by Bird, a playful young girl who comes knocking, trying to sell cardboard. Kuenzler’s natural comedic writing style at the forefront of the performance, Bird antagonises the man, pushing him to answer sensitive questions; the who what where and why surrounding his dead cat, Mopsy. The man – Ed – explains through his own convoluted logic that once you have done the worst thing you can think of then at least it’s been done, and it can’t get any worse.
With childlike innocence, Bird asks “you’re not a serial killer, are you?” to which Berry aggressively responds, “If I was a pedo, I wouldn’t go for an ugly lippy little shit like you!” Bird is obviously hurt by Berry’s brutality, who explains that no, whilst he is not a serial killer, he cooked and ate his dead cat Mopsy. The first sign of being a psychopath, he points out, is interfering with animals.
The duo perform with such ease and fluidity, their stage chemistry does not go unnoticed. The mesmerised audience finds themselves worried for Bird’s safety, worried where the story will turn next. Berry realises that worse than eating the dead cat would have been to kill it himself and eat it or eat it and not enjoy it. Kuenzler’s use of stream of consciousness gives an insight into the twisted mind of Berry, who realises the situation could be worse, and therefore that his logic is invalid.
The second mini play, Angela, is performed solely by Berry who is sat upon one chair, with a big cooking pot on top another. Just in front of him on the floor is a cardboard box. The scene starts with Berry speaking to the pot, who he calls Angela, he seems unaware that he is engaging in dialogue with a metal cooking pot. Whilst talking about the days ahead, the goings on of the garden, Berry pulls a pair of thin nude tights out of the box, reaches his hand into the pot, and pulls out lumps of minced meat with which he starts to stuff the tights.
The disturbing scene explores loneliness and the fragility of the human mind. The tights are filled as Berry continues speaking to Angela, he props the tights underneath the pot, dangling from the chair to the floor, resembling legs. He then gets a sandwich bag out of the box and partially fills it with meat, placing it in front of the pot just above the tights. Scared to show Angela his most recent purchase for her, he plucks up the courage and pulls out a lacey red bra. Carefully placing the straps around the pot’s handles, he then fills each cup with more of the meat.
In what you can only describe as unsettling yet captivating, Berry firmly remains in character, finally, blowing up a balloon and applying lipstick on himself, before erotically kissing the balloon and proceeding to stick it to the back of the chair, above the pot. His mad behaviour only highlights the devastating bond brought by true love.
Seeing Angela in full seems to trigger reality within Berry’s mind and he falls to the floor, weeping, devastated,
“You made my boring life a f—–g adventure Angela. You were the best and only thing that ever really happened to me. And I didn’t say it nearly enough. I fucking love you Angela. And I always will.”
His moment of reality is quickly re-supressed when he persuades himself that she knows how much he loved her, “enough of this soppiness” he says to the balloon as he picks himself back up.
“I had for a long time mused over the idea of someone taxiderming a relative. This idea grew out of that. I want my theatre to be as visceral and visual as possible. I am not interested in theatre that could simply be read as a script. It has to have power from being live and in the space”, says Kuenzler when speaking of Angela.
The first two plays were previously written and performed separately. “I realised they really worked together” says Kuenzler, “the next one was the hardest to write – I wrote eight short plays but none of them felt right until this one – which I only just got finished in the nick of time!”
Play three, titled A Very Promising Young Girl, portrays a schoolgirl, Bird, who is groomed by her teacher, Berry. This time, a table is added between the chairs, and the performance starts with Bird being questioned by police. She is confused, and asks for a female officer, only to be told there are none available.
The audience tries to forge an understanding of how Bird came to be questioned by the police. Addressing the audience, she says,
“I guess it probably started this morning in third period drama. Although, I’m sure some people would say it goes back further. Like, to the day I was born. Maybe I just wasn’t loved enough as a kid. But then, maybe you’d have to go back further, like to my mum […] But then maybe you’d have to go back to my grandad and work out why he was an alcoholic. […] But then you end up going all the way back to the dinosaurs driving yourself crazy trying to work out how one lousy old girl ended up in a police cell.”
Bird’s young age is reaffirmed by this playful inner monologue, which she concludes with “And I just don’t think I’m that important.”
The teacher takes Bird to the theatre, making her feel special, feeding her fancy food and alcoholic drinks, we begin to learn of his inappropriate intentions. He kisses her, “his mouth smelt like ink and prawn cocktail” the schoolgirl says. Feeling so helpless and uncomfortable, Bird steals a woman’s handbag in front of policemen in order to be taken out of the situation, somewhere ‘safe’.
The male officer, unaware of the truth, suggests Bird is in a gang, or stealing on behalf of friends or family, not considering there to be anything more to the story. After building courage to tell the truth, tell the policeman what her teacher did to her, she changes her mind and pretends that she was stealing to make money for ‘MAC makeup.’ This clever technique employed by Kuenzler highlights the blissful ignorance of many men, this child was able to brush off any suspicions the policeman had through her pretending to want makeup.
The knock-on effect of entrenched gender roles appears to be at the forefront of this trilogy, from Angela the cooking pot, to Bird’s spice-pack suggestion for cooking Mopsy, to brushing over a crime’s external factors as it is too believable that a young girl wants makeup. Berry’s despair at his wife’s death, and the ensuing madness that manifests in building his wife’s body parts with meat and lingerie, reaffirms this underlying theme.
Kuenzler’s writing is fluid and open, yet leaves ambiguity for later surprises, building suspense and shocking the audience with ease. Her previous production at the Etcetera Theatre, Baby Blues, was reviewed as “At once gripping, entertaining and tragic”, and again, I couldn’t use three better words to describe The Worst Thing You Could Do.
Rhiannon Bird and Jon Berry are both professional actors, Jon studied at Oxford and Annie at Glasgow, where both were heavily involved in student theatre. Kuenzler emphasises “How much of a dream it has been to work with them both. They are just so talented. From the first time we put on The Worst Thing You Could Do I was spellbound!”
Kuenzler, Bird and Berry have arrangements to be at the Edinburgh Fringe this summer, so keep an eye out for updates over the next few months.
Camden’s Etcetera Theatre has hosted London’s most thrilling new fringe theatre, comedy, cabaret, and musical acts since it was established in 1986. Supporting those looking to launch themselves into the arts industry, the Etcetera is committed to providing a strong platform for the capital’s upcoming theatre makers.
For more information on Camden’s Etcetera Theatre, click here.
By Phoebe Fraser