Tuesday, 5 November 2013

theatre review: nut

playwright, director and enemy of uppercase letters debbie tucker green has shown an ability to write in different styles in those plays of hers i've seen so far. nut, which premieres at the national theatre's shed, displays a similar variety in its three short acts. the story centres on elayne (nadine marshall,) a woman who rarely leaves her flat, which is untidy and filled with the lists she compulsively makes. we meet her and her friends aimee (sophie stanton) and devon (anthony welsh) as they have a funny rhetorical conversation about planning their own funerals. but the naturalistic dialogue can't disguise forever the fact that there's something slightly off, a pinteresque undertone of surreal menace to their conversation. aimee is increasingly insistent that, while she will die peacefully in her sleep some day, elayne will be the first to die, and violently. devon goes further, dropping hints that elayne should kill herself or at least self-harm; he's also strangely hostile to a young boy (tobi adetunji, zac fitzgerald or jayden fowora-knight) who joins them, singing tunelessly.

in the more naturalistic second act an ex-husband (gershwyn eustace jr) is in his ex-wife's (sharlene whyte) flat, waiting for their daughter to return for the one day a week he has custody. they bicker over their past together and argue over how best to raise their child.

the final act sees elayne and the ex-wife meet, and it starts to become clear who these various people are, and how they're connected. if parts of the play have been occasionally baffling until then it's quite satisfying to see them click together, even if some of the links haven't been set up beforehand quite as clearly as they could have.

there's something unnerving about marshall's central performance as the troubled elayne, balanced nicely by stanton's no-nonsense (to the point of cruelty) aimee and later the more grounded, sometimes witty ex-wife. cigarettes are a recurring theme and the smoke mingles with a memorable set from lisa marie hall - like a piece of modern sculpture, a huge mobile made of rusting girders whose moving parts bring to the stage parts of the two women's kitchens.

nut's very nature means it can at times have a frustrating disjointedness to it, but it's interesting to see a play take on mental health issues and how they affect not just the sufferer but those around them too; and to approach the subject from quite an oblique angle.

nut by debbie tucker green is booking until the 5th of december at the national theatre's shed.

running time: 1 hour 15 minutes straight through.

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