Review: Boom at Theatre503

What would you do if you knew the world was about to end? Call your loved ones, spend all your money, ditch the diet…? All good answers – unless you’re marine biologist Jules, who has a different approach. He’s predicted the imminent apocalypse by observing the behaviour of his fish, but having failed to convince anyone to take him seriously about the threat, he’s made his own arrangements: luring unsuspecting student Jo to his lab/bunker for what she thinks is a fun night of no strings sex. It’s only when she discovers a drawer full of diapers that it dawns on her Jules’ promise of “intensely significant coupling” might have been more than just good marketing…

Photo credit: Lidia Crisafulli
Boom by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb is a play of two halves. It begins as an enjoyably off the wall romantic comedy about two people thrown together in the most extreme circumstances. Will Merrick and Nicole Sawyerr are great as the unlikely couple – he’s an earnest nerd who genuinely can’t understand her reluctance to be Eve to his Adam; she’s a wannabe journalist with a sharp tongue, dismayed by her latest disastrous life choice. They’re so terrible together that it actually works… at least to begin with.

Then the world ends, and things take a bizarre and mildly baffling turn with the sudden intervention of Barbara. Up to this point, Barbara’s been sitting in the corner, pulling levers and providing enthusiastic percussive sound effects for what we now learn is a museum exhibit several millennia from today, educating future generations about “the Boom”. Barbara’s not supposed to talk, she informs us, before going on to do exactly that – frequently, and at great length.

It’s here that the play seems to lose its way a bit, as Barbara, played with joyous abandon by Mandi Symonds, goes pretty quickly from amusing and lovable to verbose and more than a little irritating as she constantly interrupts proceedings to talk about her own issues. Some of her monologues are utterly surreal (in particular the bit where – a propos of absolutely nothing – she decides she must tell us how she was conceived; and no, it’s not in the way you might think) and her behaviour increasingly erratic, which is entertaining but gets in the way of the play actually making a point. As a fan of dystopian fiction who’s fascinated by the psychology of survival, I was looking forward to a juicy exploration of Jules and Jo’s evolving relationship, but we spend less and less time with them as Boom slowly but surely becomes Barbara’s story instead. Having enjoyed the randomness because I assumed it would all make sense in the end, I left 90 minutes later with very little idea what I was meant to be taking away other than a feeling of slight bewilderment, and a new respect for fish.

Photo credit: Lidia Crisafulli
All this doesn’t mean the play isn’t funny; it is, and all three members of the cast give great performances. But the humour lies mainly in the awkward relationship between Jules and Jo, and in Barbara’s lively personality, rather than in the end of the world story itself. There are fewer laughs in the second half of the play – partly because, well, the world’s ended and our characters find themselves in dire straits; and partly because by this point things have got so bizarre it’s difficult to know how to respond to anything that happens.

For this reason, it’s difficult to give a conclusive opinion on Boom. It may be that in a few days’ time, something clicks into place and I suddenly get it. Right now, though, I’m still trying to figure out what hit me.

Boom is at Theatre 503 until 26th August.

Review: Screwed at Theatre503

For a lot of people, 30 is the milestone age when we start to think about our ‘life plan’: to consider who we are, who we want to be, and how we’re going to get there. But what if you don’t have a life plan, and you don’t even know where you’ll end up tomorrow, let alone in five years’ time?

Kathryn O’Reilly’s debut play, Screwed, introduces us to Charlene and Luce, two friends in their early 30s whose only goal is to lurch from one drunken night out to the next, filling the hours in between at their mind-numbingly boring factory job and popping caffeine pills to get through the day. Shrugging off the attempts of friends and family to set them straight, the two girls stumble down the path to self-destruction – but then one night things go too far, putting their dysfunctional friendship to the test, and changing several lives forever.

Photo credit: Sophie Mutevelian
Photo credit: Sophie Mutevelian

Samantha Robinson and Eloise Joseph are a perfect team as eternal teenagers Charlene and Luce. O’Reilly’s produced a choppy, off-beat script that allows the friends to fall into a familiar routine and bounce off each other in a way that’s both funny and oddly touching; you get the feeling they’ve had the same conversation many times before, and know each other back to front. And yet there’s a bitchiness underlying almost all their banter that establishes the power balance early on in the play: the brash, confident Luce (Eloise Joseph) calls the shots, while vulnerable, self-loathing Charlene (Samantha Robinson) falls in line, often at the expense of her own happiness. Consequently the friendship becomes both uncomfortable and frustrating to watch, as we not only see both girls wasting the potential they undoubtedly possess, but also find ourselves willing Charlene to break free of Luce’s damaging influence.

If the girls are often difficult for us to like, the other two characters in the play fall at the opposite end of the spectrum; in fact, if anything, they’re a bit too good. The girls’ work colleague – and Charlene’s love interest – Paulo (Stephen Myott-Meadows) is endlessly patient and idealistic, while Luce’s trans parent, Doris (Derek Elroy), is a shining example of someone who saw what they wanted from life and made it happen, against the odds and whilst single-handedly raising a difficult and ungrateful daughter. Both the male characters are admirable and likeable enough, but next to the complexities of the central characters, they do feel just a little one-dimensional.

Photo credit: Sophie Mutevelian
Photo credit: Sophie Mutevelian

Sarah Meadows’ production is slick and energetic, and leaves plenty to the audience’s imagination. Much like a drunken night out, some of the most significant events are blacked out, and we (and others) are forced to rely on the girls’ memories – which are unreliable at best, downright dishonest at worst – to piece the story together. The set, designed by Catherine Morgan, is simple yet multifunctional, adapting easily to become everything from factory to hospital, nightclub to kebab van. The concealed mirrors are a nice touch too, allowing for an increasing amount of self-examination from the characters as the play goes on… though whether it does anyone any good is questionable.

Screwed is a hard-hitting play, and not always that enjoyable to watch, though it certainly has its moments. Underneath the bawdy humour lies a cautionary tale about wasted opportunities – in love, work, and life in general – and the party culture that, much like Luce and Charlene’s friendship, does far more harm than good. Kathryn O’Reilly’s decision to explore this social trend with a focus on female characters is refreshing, if a little bit depressing, and while the play doesn’t offer a lot in the way of answers, it certainly paints a vivid picture.

Screwed is at Theatre503 until 23rd July.