BWW Review: NOTHING TO PERFORM, Cockpit Theatre
Recent graduates of the RADA/Birkbeck MA Text and Performance course have collaborated to create a story of dystopian abstraction; a tale of optimism that has the possibility to resonate with us all. Programmed as one of the pieces at this year's Camden Fringe, Nothing to Perform is a funny, blunt and unpredictable piece about three caretakers from the north-east of England who have written, rehearsed and produced a play that no one will ever see.
Feeling resentment towards the students at the university, Davey is desperate to change his life. He decides to put on a play, but is presented with numerous obstacles. Described as a play about nothing, it is much more than that. Throughout the one-hour narrative, the piece poses questions on accessibility to the arts, and critiques how people from a working-class background are able to engage.
As well as writing the piece, Scott Howland leads the cast of northern actors. He plays Davey, a 25-year-old, working-class lad full of ambition. Howland is relaxed, charming and has a natural ability to command attention on stage.
To his employer, Davey is considered undesirable, unworthy, insignificant and different to those who normally participate in art, leading to unfair treatment, deprivation and lack of access to opportunities. Howland's scenes with Jace Moody, who plays his best mate Andrew, are particularly exciting. The pair have a great chemistry, and demonstrate the intensity of the characters' connection.
New York-based director Harriet Taylor makes her London debut. Whilst a promising effort, some of her decisions lack clarity. A dreary Bruce Springsteen track is played as the set is awkwardly cleared, and her direction at times seems restrictive.
On the other hand, Taylor's blocking does make use of the in-the-round staging, encouraging the actors to connect with all four sides. It's unfortunate that each side has only a few rows occupied; a full audience would have provided that required intimacy, yet with only a quarter of seats filled, the space swallows the performers up.
Very much still a work in progress, Nothing to Perform has the potential to be an impactful piece of theatre. In order for this to happen the play needs a rigorous edit, and a clearer emphasis on the message it wishes to convey. The text reads beautifully, yet on its feet it lacks spark. Howland has written from his own personal experience, and while this can be emotionally endearing, it at times feels self-indulgent.
Nothing to Perform at Cockpit Theatre until 13 August
Photo credit: Chloë Wicks