This is an intriguing and innovative drama written by Paul Hewitt, adapted for the stage from his own original poem. The unconventional set – the frame of a cube with its edges delineated by bright halogen strip-lights – seems to have settled snuggly into the brilliant Hope Theatre in-the-round studio, following its journey through atmospheres other than our own. This is a deliberate attempt, I believe, to engender the impression that the mere middle-class mortals who inhabit the gentrified areas of the planet are actually controlled by a rather vindictive Guiding Hand, a repetition fetishist who seemingly delights in leading lusting lovers up the garden path to find a rotting, maggoty compost heap of cancer, death and loneliness. Yes, after a bright and funny start the final third of the piece is rather depressing: “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods” one might opine. Call it God, call it Fate or call it the Moving Finger of “The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám” (Hewitt’s inspiration), this particular Guiding Hand ain’t nice to know.
In fact Hewitt does call it Fate, personified by a white-clad, ephemeral, floating being who narrates, probes, leads and ultimately controls the action. Fate is played by Roshni Rathore with a chilling, impersonal, voyeuristic resonance that sets the ever-darkening tone of the piece and gets us thinking: you know, perhaps God wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Rathore shapes and pummels the putty characters in the box into which she does not often stray except when playing the stalled-relationship lust-interest. This is a modern, virtual reality Fate: she is in another, probably astral, plane. She speaks but is really voicing the thoughts of the characters in the confines of the increasingly stifling cube. As she prowls around the audience we can truly say, therefore, that she thinks outside the box.
Edward Nash as Man probably didn’t realise what he was letting himself in for when he accepted this role. Rather than Everyman he’s more Millennial Man and on reading the script Nash surely didn’t clock that in the fifteen minute hiatus where he doesn’t speak, Director Ian Nicholson would get him to stand, yes stand, perfectly still without moving a muscle or twitching an eye or scratching an itch for the duration whilst the other character, Woman, is monologuing away. Multiple claps for Nash because that is some feat under lights, in touching distance of beer being swilled in the front row – on all sides – and with canny members of the audience trying to catch his eye. They didn’t. Nash also manages to conjure sympathy from us despite being a). a man, b). a love-rat and c). a lonely old codger at the end who Fate reckons got what was coming to him. Well, she should know. Nash is very effective in this role and is equally adept at the quick-fire skirmishes of the early date-in- a-box and the more tortuous explaining away of how love has faded to nothing.
He is in good company with Michelle Fahrenheim as Woman and the pair work excellently together throughout the play. Fahrenheim plays the giggly, girly nervous tension of the first date scenario well but still has several gears to go though as Woman experiences the jilted-lover syndrome, the my-hopeless- life process, and brain-cancer- victim mode – which comes across as real but could be metaphorical: I couldn’t decide. At least when Man has his monologue Woman is dead so gets to lie down, thus Fate, in thespian terms, dealt the short straw to Nash. Fahrenheim is strong and sympathetic, funny and severe and ultimately whimsical and tragic – quite a range to put across in such a confined and confining space. All in all this troupe of three deliver Hewitt’s poetic vision in an engaging and compelling fashion under Nicholson’s tight and intuitively nuanced direction.
Invalid Displayed Gallery
Dan Balfour’s simmeringly potent soundscape gives a kind of doom-laden undertone to the show and Lighting Designer I-Shun Lee has her work cut out in this fun-size, in-the- round container but she deploys LED spots well complimenting the action without dominating it and with minimal audience spill – no mean feat in the confines of the space!
This is a thought-provoking play that stays with you long after leaving the auditorium. And, thankfully (due to the proximity of the audience), there is no nudity in Nude plus, as Fate informs us, no awkward sex scenes either. Hang on, though – I didn’t mention the slightly annoying unravelling of the twine: important, kismet-inspired karma-web or quirkily-redundant, self-indulgent safety-hazard? Go see it and make up your own mind.
Review by Peter Yates
director IAN NICHOLSON / writer PAUL HEWITT
3 – 21 May 2016
Tues to Sat. No shows Sun & Mon.
A new poem-turned play about love and fate – how two strangers can become lovers and how relationships grow and fade endlessly.
Heavily influenced by The Ruba’iyat of Omar Khayyam, this original play is an exploration of two people’s love for one another and how fate might play its part. Love grows and fades, nearly always involves two strangers and, like life itself, is almost entirely unexplained. Fate, here, is personified. Fate is someone we all know.
Nude was commissioned by Apples & Snakes and was produced by Element Arts as a part of the SO: To Speak Festival 2015 where the play premiered in a 20ft shipping container in Southampton. After it’s run at The Hope Theatre, Nude will transfer to Forest Forge in the heart of the New Forest before heading out on a tour of the South.
Nude is produced in association with Forest Forge Theatre Company.