Craig Boyle's Comfort Slaves has a noble intention: to expose the culture of rampant corruption and hedonism which recent news stories suggest runs through some parts of our society. Politicians, heads of large corporations and people in showbiz are all portrayed as vile individuals, with depraved, lecherous intentions. Sexual abuse and ritual murder is almost considered normal in these circles, Boyle argues – and his script makes a daring stab at it all.
The characters include Peter and his pregnant wife Gillian; his sister Sarah, a talent show competitor; and Sarah's husband Gavin, who is part of a gang. All of them are connected in one way or another by an MP, called Mr Logan. He is the man who rapes Gillian and also molests Sarah, yet he is worshipped in a cult-like fashion by Gavin and his mates. These stories move in the past and present, and intermingle; the connections between them become quite difficult to follow, and I was crying out at times for some more straightforwardly explanatory lines, particularly from Logan.
The setting is ideal for an immersive show. New Town Theatre's Kitchen is spartan, save for metal trays resembling gurneys. You can sit on them, or stand. The audience surrounds the cast from all sides and the actors make very good use of the large space – conducting dialogues from various positions, walking around, and putting audience in the spot with uncomfortable questions. There's also a wonderful shock part-way through, which I won't spoil, but revealed that something I'd taken for granted wasn't quite as it seemed.
However, the series of disturbing images seemed to stretch belief for me. Of course, the premise of the play is to elicit shock, and all the sub-plots are based on real-world allegations – like the Bohemian Grove's claimed annual rituals of hedonism, debauchery, and sacrifice. But at one point it was just one gory scene followed by another: firing shots, attacking a pregnant woman, forced abortion, rape – you get the picture, and it is not pretty.
Overall, it was a worthwhile show, very jarring. But I left with a strong desire for more plot and less shock. The age restriction on this show, which most of us usually gloss over, is well-founded: and even if you are 16+, this show would be unsuitable for those who do not deal well with very graphic content. And be warned, I mean very graphic.