If your experience of Fringe plays has become stale, Nothing is likely to change your mind. I’m not being facetious: this is an absolutely captivating piece of theatre. The fact that Barrel Organ Theatre is largely made up of recent graduates makes its professionalism even more impressive.
The characters are so well defined that I almost find it difficult to accept that they will change hands among the cast from day to day.
The show’s novel arrangement is extremely daring. Chairs line all four walls of the room, the stage sitting empty in the centre. Everyone takes a seat and waits. Suddenly, the director of the piece, Ali Pidsley, stands up and asks one audience member to choose a name from a list and a number between one and three. This assigns one of three prepared monologues to the first of the seven actors, causing a knock-on effect for the rest of the cast, each of whom have likewise prepared a set of three monologues – part of a combined pool of nine – from which to draw.
It’s an immersive, guerrilla-style show, with actors suddenly piping up next to you where plain audience members were sitting before. The ruse is all the more successful because these are people you have queued with to enter the venue. You’ll find yourself looking around the room trying to guess who will speak next – or wondering whether an actual audience member might spontaneously pitch in to what feels rather like a group therapy session.
The monologues vary radically, from quiet tales of solitude to unwitting revelations of emotional detachment and hesitant accounts of severe trauma. Pidsley’s light directorial touch is clear from the easy fluidity of the show, with actors sometimes passing the metaphorical conch mid-sentence, taking centre stage or moving to different seats to change our perspective. Despite the show’s flexibility, the characters are so well defined that I almost find it difficult to accept that they will change hands among the cast from day to day.
The script by Lulu Raczka frequently allows for lines of beautiful, poignant clarity. Although the link between the stories isn’t clear to begin with and the shifts between harrowing tales and blackly comical ones jar at first, the final moments of the production convincingly draw them together. These tales of isolation, anger, and the cruelty of happenstance mix all sorts of pain with a distinctly 21st century ennui, forming a complex, comprehensive portrait of contemporary young adulthood. There’s no escaping it: whether the experiences we are allotted amount to something or nothing in our own minds, our habit of introspectively obsessing over the past and wondering ruefully what could have been is universal.
This is a vital, commendably audacious production. Far from the nihilism its title might imply, Nothing provides a refreshing, heartening hour for even the most jaded Fringe-goer. Do not miss out.