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NUT – National Theatre Shed, SE1

UNEASY & UNEXPLAINED MOMENTS.  UNDER SOME GIRDERS.

What would you like to have written in your funeral eulogy?   Aimee, scruffy and pallid in urban battle-fatigues,  busy painting her toenails green, says.   “Brilliant.  Thass it. Brilliant. One word, no lists , no instructions. I was – It was –  I will be remembered as  –  brilliant!”.  Her friend Elayne, a young black woman,  remarks  “Thass not no eulogy, that’s a piss take”.
For all the mouthy eloquence, though, it is Elayne who is in trouble, and too receptive to the idea of hastening the day of her own funeral eulogy.  Nadine Marshall has a  clever, angrily troubled beauty,  well contrasted with the coarser Aimee (Sophie Stanton).   We do not know what sort of mental trouble Elayne is in, any more than we know why the set (by Lisa Marie Hall) consists of random crooked girders and bent pipes swaying overhead,  as if we had stumbled into an unfinished section of Crossrail.

Nor,  in the seventy-minute span of Debbie Tucker Green’s self-directed play,    do we really learn much more.   The first section, sparkily written and often amusing,  has the two women arguing about funerals, interrupted by an assertive young man grumbling that the doorbell doesn’t work  and a strange, faintly singing boy child who is half-noticed, half ignored in a way which makes you wonder whether he is supposed to be dead, or a memory.  It is that sort of play.   The next section is a two-hander, splendidly venomous and beautifully observed, in which a divorced couple rip chunks off one another over who has the best relationship with an invisible 11-year-old. Sharlene Whyte and Gershwyn Eustache Jr do it magnificently.

In the final section Whyte turns  out to be the younger sister of the troubled Elayne.  She too complains about there being no batteries in the doorbell,  so we must assume that the battery deficit is symbolic of Elayne’s voluntary isolation.  Another symbol is cigarette smoking,  with some weird semi-sadistic play in the first and third sections,  and numerous burns on Elayne’s arms.    Oh, and the mystery singing child is back  (Tobi Adetunji on press night, rather good and distinctly spooky).   Is he dead?  No idea.

The temporary Shed theatre has proved its worth this summer,  its informal warmth perfectly framing some bracingly unusual and striking work.   This one is as well performed as any,  credible in dialogue  and watchable in a depressing sort of way as a study in female unhappiness and unease.   But it is the least engaging Shed night so far,  smelling too strongly of neo-Beckettian theatre-anorakkery and mired in unsatisfying,  unnecessary, unresolved mystification.

box office 020 7452 3244  to 5 dec       Shed partner: Neptune
rating:  two         2 meece rating

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