Review: No One Is Coming To Save You
Image: The Bunker
"Later on, when he's not slept for thirty-three hours straight and he's stared so hard at the wall that it has changed colour and texture and shape, he will stand up and wish he had gone straight to bed, just gone straight to bed and not walked to the back of the flat and not walked up to the window and not seen it."
Two voices, two stories: an insomniac is watching TV in a language he doesn't understand and a woman is stood in a garden stretching her arms to the sky.
The whole world is asleep and something terrible is just around the corner.
Lyrical, eerie, and hypnotic, No One is Coming to Save You is the story of the wait for dawn in a suburban garden, a slow-build gasp from two lives lived in social, political and economic fear.
It's an attempt to get to grips with what we're waiting for and why we're waiting.
It's a call into the silence for someone to find a solution.
Supported by Arts Council England, This Noise makes theatre about the politics of the here and now, by, with, and for young people.
It's been quite a while since I saw an 'experimental' piece of theatre.
Though I've seen plenty of plays that had experimental elements, the fashion for theatre rooted in what could be termed 'the obscure' or inscrutable, seems to have faded (or, perhaps, I've just missed them).
That might not be such a good thing either for audiences, actors, or theatre in general because the boundaries of what we see in the theatre need to be continually stretched and developed.
It's often those in the vanguard of creative endeavour who provide novel, game-changing ideas for others to follow and build on.
Sometimes, we want to go to the theatre to relax and be entertained, and just let a show wash over us.
Other times, we need to be challenged, made to think, made to work and theatre can manage all that in abundance.
No One Is Coming to Save You will undoubtedly make you think and it is also enormously challenging.
As for the work element, well I did my best, but I'm sorry to say that I felt lost after only a few sentences and never quite managed to catch-up or wholly tune-in, even if there are some easier passages sprinkled around the later sections.
The show notes provide some clues as to the intentions of this piece, but I never read those before I see a play for the first time, that way I get a better impression of how the show itself conveys its story and ambitions.
Photo by This Noise
Much of the play is monologue delivered by the actors in turn.
But, instead of that providing clarity through focus, the play is made more difficult to understand because of Nathan Ellis's writing style.
Take a glance at the synopsis above and you'll see a quote which amply illustrates how the dense text is organised.
It's like a highly descriptive novel, often with similar sounding phrases repeated after each other - all in quite long sentences.
Now when you're reading a novel - or a poem - you can go back and re-read some of the passages to pick-up ideas you missed.
But that, of course, can't happen here.
And (I think) that is what makes the play difficult to comprehend - because a simple idea here is expressed in seemingly complex language that feels unnaturally stretched.
That isn't meant to be a criticism - it's simply Mr Ellis's style of writing, or at least it's his style in this piece of writing.
But it does make it more difficult for the audience who don't have the text for comfort and support.
Of course, that is the challenge too - we have to listen intently, and the audience on this occasion certainly did, giving it both a fair hearing and a very decent reception, perhaps indicating that they found less puzzlement in the piece than I did.
Though I felt in the dark for much of the time about the characters, Agatha Elwes and Rudolphe Mdlongwa show no indication of being in any doubt about their understanding of either the nature of the play or their characters.
That means they've obviously worked incredibly hard on their performances - with assured direction from Charlotte Fraser - and it shows in spades, even with the taxing nature of the script they have to deliver.
It's these excellent performances from two talented and highly confident young actors (ones to keep an eye out for in the future) who manage to create a mood that one can latch on to, even if we don't always comprehend every spoken word or it's exact context.
It's a rather desolate mood that conveys a sense of vacuum - something missing or lacking in the lives of the characters - indicated perhaps in the half-full glasses which surround the main acting area.
However, there are large swathes of the piece which are delivered from rather uninteresting static positions, and some of the movement and physical actions are staid and uninventive - the kind of movement sequences I've seen repeatedly in many shows.
And the small TV set at the back of the stage tends to distract with its changing images that don't always seem to complement the spoken word.
Though I can see that those things are related to development of the mood as well as the overall experience, the enterprise lacks well-defined, compensatory innovation to really draw us in and to help us understand just what the play is saying.
However, This Noise deserve considerable praise for taking bold, creative risks and I strongly suspect that they're going to deliver further intriguing and inspiring work in the future.
Following No One Is Coming to Save You, I saw another of the season's plays called Section 2 which provides a striking contrast with safer ground in dramatic terms because it is more conventional - though it too is challenging, and rather poignantly sad (you can read the review of that here).
If you're going to venture out to The Bunker's Breaking Out Season you could take advantage of a double bill ticket to see both No One Is Coming to Save You and Section 2 - two strikingly different plays but which, in a way that's not easy to define, fit very well together.
And, in spite of my reservations above, I'd certainly recommended seeing both of them.
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ActDrop listing for The Bunker
Our show listing for No One Is Coming To Save You
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