THE PLAY ABOUT NOTHING
By & All the King's Men. Until October 9.
This is an odd little show that's both ambitious and understated – ambitious in that it employs a cut-up, audience-participation method that means every show will be radically different, and understated in that the world it produces is just the very ordinary one of a couple of teenaged boys on a night on the town.
I suppose the title is a nod to Seinfeld, the show about nothing, but like Seinfeld that descriptor's a bit misleading. This isn't a show about nothing, just about nothing grand. It's honestly a world I've never seen recreated in a theatre before – I suppose I still haven't, since this was a long way from a 'theatre'. In a grimy, graffitoed room above a pub, the audience sat in the round wearing assigned costume items and clutching their props. We'd been issued a page of character instructions including commands as to how we were to respond at key plot points, but any fears that this would be an all-out bit of audience interaction were quickly allayed when the show began. It's a two-hander that occasionally calls on each audience member for a moment of involvement, simply to flesh out the other characters these dudes meet in their misadventures.
These included angry shopkeepers, petty drug dealers, bums and pot-heads and a range of dodgy mates. The audience-performers aren't required to be great actors or even particularly enthusiastic – the real actors are themselves so full of energy and so damn real in their roles that they carry the thing along briskly nonetheless. And it's to their huge credit that they manage to improvise so well, since other characters will come and go depending on the number of audience members on any given night. I only realised afterwards that entire sequences must have been omitted on the fly for this reason.
It's not something that deals with great themes but it's a surprisingly fun night that seems to have provoked similar reactions from other reviews I've read. And given that at least four of the six audience members were professional critics or writers on the night I attended, and there didn't seem an ounce of nervousness on the part of the performers, that's gotta be worth an extra tick.