Julia Brookes reviews the play by Lulu Raczka for Lippy
On arrival at the theatre, the only preconceived idea I had of Lulu Raczka’s ‘Nothing’ was that is consisted of a series of monologues. I was not expecting what I saw: a production which tuned into the depths of what it means to be human in such a messy world.
Originally performed at Edinburgh Fringe where the actors sat in the audience and performed their monologues when they felt compelled, directors Jess Payne and Sophie Apthorp pushed this concept further to make a more collaborative piece. They interlinked the monologues, so the characters bounced off each other and did not exist only in isolation. The monologues had conversations with each other and so the characters had conversations with each other, solo stories became shared stories.
The script was tactically chopped and merged together so the use of a similar word or thought would springboard you into another character’s story. The jumping narrative which could have potentially been confusing for an audience was pulled off seamlessly due to the thought and care taken in the placement of the monologues. The whole production had a feeling of improvisation, an intimate experience between audience and actors, leaving you feeling like you were witness to an arrangement that would never be reproduced again.
A series of monologues holds the risk of feeling isolating and detached, but this felt quite the opposite. With all characters on stage for most of the show, they bounced off one another. Interwoven between both interaction and dialogue, it was mesmerizing to watch. By placing all the characters together in a waiting room throughout the show, nuances and personalities came through which may have been otherwise lost, similarities and differences between characters built up a narrative and a backstory even before the audience had heard any dialogue.
Aside from the innovative setup, the stories delivered were the perfect balance of funny and heart wrenching. I found myself laughing at one line and wanting to cry at the next. I could never tell where a monologue was going and found myself constantly surprised as a character steered me from one direction to the next.
Charlotte Mckenna’s portrayal of ‘Porn Girl’ was particularly funny, played in a giddy, childlike fashion but simultaneously addressing the typically taboo topics of female masturbation and porn in a light-hearted and normalised manner. Comedy gold came from the portrayal of ‘Vandal’ by Alice Waller whose Miranda Hart style recount of shitting of her work colleague’s doorstep had the whole theatre cackling. Her characterisation was impeccable, and she provided the depth needed to a darkly comical character.
On the flip side, the brilliant depiction of ‘BFFs’ by Abi Norris and Will Challis as well as ‘Commuter’ by Akshay Raja was an intensely grounded look into traumatic events. You felt as if you were in the moment with them, seeing what they saw and feeling what they felt. Stories of rape, torture and mutilation were unexaggerated and unflashy: the focus was on real traumatic experience and the effects it has on us. It emphasised the idea that all emotions and reactions to these events are valid, even if they are not the norm.
For me, the show was stolen by Jacob Greaves’ performance of ‘Patient’. Tactically placed in the middle of the play, this story of childhood sexual abuse was the most hard-hitting. Greaves’ portrayal of the role was stunning, he brought humour and humanity to a difficult topic. His performance was haunting and one that will stay with me for a time to come. The focus of this monologue was not on what had happened to Patient, but him trying to come to grips with how it may have shaped the person he is today. It was fascinating to see such a traumatic subject matter depicted in this novel way, a character mundanely but crucially coming to grips with trauma and realising that while it may be nothing, it may be everything.
This was a running theme throughout the play, things that may be nothing can be everything, it investigated how you go about coming to grips with this bind. A series of purposeful creative decisions from Payne and Anthrop invited the audience in to consider this question with the characters. Even little details, like leaving the house lights on throughout the performance, meant that the whole show felt like a shared experience: we were in this waiting room with the characters. It felt like conversations, not monologues. It emphasised, as all good theatre should, the importance of sharing, listening, and reacting. It shed light onto the thoughts, emotions and experiences which make us profoundly and painfully human. The cast and crew should be incredibly proud.
Words: Julia Brookes
Photo credit: Abby Swain