“It’s a heavy monologue, but Wass regularly drops dark, deadpan jokes that work all the better for their unexpected nature”
The Thelmas are back with their second show at VAULT Festival this year. While Santi and Naztook us to India in the 1940s, Notch takes a scathing look at present-day Dublin. An unnamed European immigrant from an unnamed Slavic country finds the West, Ireland in particular, isn’t the land of opportunity she thought it would be.
Drawing from personal experience, Croatian writer/performer Danaja Wass uses spoken word and visual media to tell her story. In Dublin, Wass’ character lives in hostels and works a minimum wage job. She dreams of climbing up the ladder, but the current anti-European sentiment is a heavy weight on her shoulders. Ireland’s disdain for foreigners affects her mental health to the point that she loses her job. With no money, and no friends or family in the country, she faces homelessness.
In the wake of Brexit, Wass aims a well-timed shot to the heart of Britain and Ireland’s xenophobia. Directed by Madelaine Moore, Notch is a fearless confrontation of a broken system. Wass gives a committed performance, sliding between a Croatian and Dublin accent. Behind her is a TV, which sometimes displays clips of her love interest (Evelyn Lockley). Other times, closeups of Wass pulling at her face reiterates her corporeal existence while her character is made to feel invisible.
It’s a heavy monologue, but Wass regularly drops dark, deadpan jokes that work all the better for their unexpected nature. However, the aggressively fragmented composition of the show is a risky choice that doesn’t pay off. Split into jagged, haphazard sections of storytelling and spoken word, the narration is very difficult to follow. Although a sense of disorder may have been intentional, the chaotic structure too often leaves the audience out of the loop. Sudden jumps in tone, time, and place make piecing it all together a challenge. Jerky transitions and abrupt changes in lighting (Martha Godfrey) give a rocky overall impression.
Wass has a strong voice, and hers is undoubtedly a story we should be listening to right now. Notch is a bold piece with a singular perspective – it’s a shame so much feels lost in the jumble.
“There are a lot of good things going on, but it feels a little too focussed on getting several points across”
Relish Theatre’s new play by James McDermott is set in Cromer in Norfolk, a town that is going through an influx of chain stores and cafes and, maybe, losing its soul. May, played by Wendy Nottingham, in in her fifties and runs a good old fashioned caff at the end of the pier, which may become a Pret a Manger if she sells it. Should she stay or sell up? Ken delivers bread around the town, as he has every day for forty years. What will happen to him if the traditional places close down? Nemo is about to leave and follow his dream, becoming a drama student in London. Daz is staying put, can’t see what’s wrong with Cromer, can’t see what’s right about going to college. Nobody acknowledges their feelings, but Nemo is gay and thinks he is in love with Daz, his best mate. Daz is straight, or is he?
Time and Tide got off to a rather slow start as May and Nemo prepared the cafe for opening. Their relationship was nicely established, with May’s love of old films and Nemo’s doubts creating a believable friendship between this unlikely pair. The first odd directorial decision was when the lights dimmed, and the tables were cleaned for a second time. It’s little things like this that can throw an audience off from the world of the play. ‘But Nemo just cleaned the tables with the squirty bottle and kitchen towel, and arranged the salt and pepper. Why are they doing it again?’ Sadly it wasn’t the only time more aware direction would have been advisable. Ken came in with his bread and gave an enjoyable comic focus to the scene, adding an obvious attraction to May into the mix, Paul Easom managed not to turn Ken into a stock comic character, giving him a vulnerability underneath the comedy that was likeable and sweet. It was all rather charming, but the underlying litany of chain stores taking over the high street felt a bit artificial; more a point to be made than an integral part of the story. it is an important theme in the tale, but the lack of subtlety was wearing.
The central relationship is that of Nemo and Daz, played by Josh Barrow and Elliot Liburd. Barrow’s Nemo was delightful in his insecurity, likeable, wavering and sad. Liburd was the polar opposite, bringing a much needed energy; a loud, sweary cheeky lad down the pub. The two friends had a lot going on beneath the surface, and it had to come out. I don’t want to give away what happens, but at one point Nemo ended up on the floor, at the feet of the audience, and stayed there for quite a while. This made him invisible to at least half the room at a key point in the play. It’s a mistake often made in small theatres, and I wish directors would sit in the back row during rehearsals, with people in front of them and think about positioning.
James McDermott has written a sort of love story to old English seaside towns, as well as a story of different kinds of love between people. There are a lot of good things going on, but it feels a little too focussed on getting several points across. Director Rob Ellis almost succeeded in making it work, but someone needs to tell him that when something is thrown through a window from inside the broken glass is going to be mostly outside, not all over the floor.