Theatre503, London – until 26 August 2017
“It’s not just about the sound / It’s about the event / A radical change in the state of things” … Though the quote above is taken from the play BOOM, it could also be about the epithet ‘fag’ which is casually and cruelly used a couple of times throughout. It’s not used in a hugely dramatic way which is almost worse, as it goes entirely unchallenged, part of a normalisation of the language which I find hard to accept, knowing only too well the vitriolic power it has when it is wielded against you.
It proved a rude awakening in Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s play but also one that was entirely unnecessary as its utterance doesn’t bring anything substantive to the character, rather it just smacks of a lazy shortcut to characterisation. And it is perhaps symptomatic of a play that isn’t entirely clear about its own identity, despite a strong production here at the Theatre503 from director Katherine Nesbitt.
BOOM is the type of play that wills you not to describe the plot, as so much is contingent on the surprises that it periodically unleashes. Suffice to say, it begins with the most awkward of Tinder dates between marine biologist Jules and journalism student Jo and quickly degenerates into an apocalyptic satire, or farce, or absurdist drama, or scientific cautionary tale – depends how you look at it.
There’s much that is interesting in here: the way history is recorded, and told to future generations; creation myths; the role of fate in the evolutionary process; the very nature of storytelling. But Nachtrieb doesn’t unpack much, if any of them, across the 90 minutes, leaving boom a strangely hollow experience as it meanders its way to a climax that lacks the requisite punch.
To be sure, there’s a strong vein of dark comedy which garners a fair few laughs, and Mandi Symonds is ferociously good as Barbara, our narrator of sorts. But Will Merrick and Nicole Sawyerr seem to struggle in establishing a meaningful connection as the central couple and the latter is further hampered by having to make sense of that bigotry that leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)Photos: Lidia CrisafulliBooking until 26th August.