Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Sunday 11th February, 2018
Lulu Raczka’s play from 2014 is all talk and no action. The ‘nothing’ of the title is exactly what happens. And that is the point. The cast of eight sit among the audience; each has a story to tell, a monologue to get off his or her chest, and the actors pipe up, not in turn exactly, but when the moment feels right, and so there can be several stories being told concurrently. It’s a bit like flipping channels and amusing collisions arise, as if the speakers are responding to each other, at times. I understand the ebb and flow of the monologues changes at every performance and so each performance is truly unique.
Today, Oscar Street kicks off with his story of how his obsession with tattoos led him to follow a young man onto a bus on which he later became a public hero. He is ‘interrupted’ by Sam Wilson, a troubled chap who traces his sexual confusion to an assault he suffered at the age of eleven. Next, Emma Friend pipes up, in a scandalously delightful account of shitting on the doorsteps of those who cross her. We hear from Shaun Hartman’s film enthusiast, struggling to help a friend with depression; from Alexis Meshida, craving graphic vengeance for the rape of her best friend; from Rose Pardo Roques who claims to have achieved nothing, and has dreams and fantasies rather than ambitions; from Varinder Singh Dhinsa whose experience at a humdrum house party leads to an horrific encounter; and from Abigail Westwood, an avid porn watcher who is not at ease with her proclivities… The characters speak frankly (do they ever!!) in ways that people rarely do in reality. There is a confessional air to the piece and it reminds me very much of the writing of Steven Berkoff in the depictions of sex and violence and sexual violence.
There is humour and tension in the air – we don’t know who might speak up next: it could be our neighbour or anyone across the rows. We listen, we laugh, we wince, and it feels as though anyone of us could have a story to tell.
Director Andrew Cowie elicits assured and effective performances from every member of his young cast, each one as credible as the last (or the next). In a way, the cast direct themselves, deciding when to chip in and when to keep shtum during the performance, but they are clearly well-trained in getting across the truth of their characters’ tales.
An unusual piece of theatre, superbly and simply presented, Nothing is a snapshot of modern society, our fears, our hang-ups, our solipsistic world-views… and this production further cements the reputation of the Crescent’s Ron Barber Studio as a venue for challenging, rewarding work.