Directed by Kate Bannister
Pros: Transports the audience into a club toilet – a brilliant set, and some very believable characters.
Cons: Tries to pack too much in and doesn’t quite pull everything together. The drama becomes little strident and confused towards the end.
Our Verdict: An interesting and commendable effort from lots of new talent to keep an eye on.
There seems to be a fashion at the moment for setting plays in unusual spaces. Mydidae
(which ran at the Soho Theatre
and then Trafalgar Studios
) did this with a bathroom in a middle class flat. No Rhyme
does it with the ladies’ toilet in a South London club. It’s a brilliant idea because, as anyone who was once a teenage girl knows, the Ladies is where the action is. How many friendships have been born, and how many have died in a toilet cubicle on a Friday night between two forays on the dance floor?
I was sold on the setting and absolutely impressed with the set. You couldn’t have asked for more realistic a recreation of a club toilet, down to working taps and hand dryers. We meet Lizzie, played by Susan Lawson-Reynolds, a black toilet attendant who spends half her time muttering over a bible at the to-ings and fro-ings of her sinful clients, and the other half cleaning up after them. Lawson-Reynolds performance is fantastic and, as the only character who remains on stage throughout, she provides the perfect framing device for the story. She’s the kind of character who in real life would get completely ignored and marginalised but here, not only do we see the world through her eyes for a moment, but also, just by her presence, she brings into relief the absurdity of a lot of the other characters’ behaviour.
Under her watchful eye, we see Nushka (played by Megan Lee Mason) and Pepper (played by Naomi J Lewis) gossip, reminisce, and argue. The two girls’ performances are good and their relationship is believably endearing, complete with that edge of dangerous intensity characteristic of teenage friendships – at one point Nushka talks Pepper into attacking a girl who she believes slept with her boyfriend, just because friends should “have each other’s backs”. There were a few moments when the performances didn’t quite flow as well as they could have done, in particular as the girls were supposed to be getting drunker. Acting drunk is something I find even the best actors can rarely pull off though. Katya (played Karina Knapinska) is the least interesting character, a stereotype of an Eastern European immigrant, included mostly to engineer an element of the plot, which is crucial for the unfolding of the rest of the play.
The story builds to a climax, and here I felt that the writer was deliberately complicating things and adding drama in order to make things more interesting. To me, this was a shame, because by the end of it – there is too much for the audience to take in both visually and dramatically and it all felt a little strident and confused. I felt like the play might have benefited from being stripped back a bit, concentrating on the relationship between the two girls and how Lizzie reacts to them. By having the girls come in and out of the toilets constantly, amongst several others characters, the script clearly tries to create the illusion that we are witnessing a whole night in a club toilet. Personally, I felt the script would have benefitted from condensing the drama into one or two trips to the toilet by the girls, culminating in a confrontation with Lizzie. There are a few beautiful moments when Lizzie comforts the girls – who go from confident and cocky to lost and panicked by the end – and for an instant they are all humans in pain, when only a second ago they had been gum-chewing teenage girls versus scarf-wearing illegal immigrant. I would have loved to have seen these moments breathe by stripping back some of the yelling and confusion of the multiple story strands.
I felt that in some ways the play was prevented from reaching the heights of its ambition – to be a hard-hitting drama about the absurdity of the pain that is inflicted on people by themselves and by others (no rhyme, no reason). Nonetheless, it is commendable for that very ambition and, as a first time effort from writer Melanie Pennant, an impressive feat.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!
No Rhyme runs at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre until 25 May 2013.