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The Most Incredible Nothing, Battersea Arts Centre

A Battersea Arts Centre Homegrown Production
Directed by Neil Callaghan

Pros: A creative and engaging piece all-round, and it feels good to know that it was created by young people who have obviously made a strong connection with the theatre.

Cons: The content and delivery felt a bit self-indulgent at times but it was obviously coming from an honest and raw place. For the bravery alone, we can cut it some slack.

Our Verdict: For a piece created in two months, connecting the stories and ideas of a group of strangers who were also learning new skills as they went, this is an impressively honest and fluid piece of work.

Courtesy of the Battersea Arts Centre

Considering the title of the show, alarm bells started ringing for me when we were ushered into a massive, high ceilinged, mildly decrepit looking room in which there is literally nothing: no seating, no stage, no curtain, nothing. This isn’t one of those shows where a bunch of strangers are ‘interactive theatre-ed’ into creating their own performance out of nothing, is it? Fortunately not. But there are kazoos.

Standing in the auditorium waiting for the performance to begin, we are suddenly encircled by a group of kazoo playing young people who inform of us that they have appeared from a futuristic universe in which stories are banned. The audience from generations past has been gathered by a group of radical storytellers who have preserved and mean to share every tale they can muster. As a company, the performers have collected their own life stories, sometimes enhancing or manipulating them, into a collage of physically led work.

The result is a mish-mash of stories, musings and memories interspersed with more philosophical scenes about where they come from, how all of us have our own stories to tell, and about the importance of perpetuating them. The stories and memories are of varying levels of seriousness and urgency, from the best one-and-a-half minutes of one man’s life dancing in a club, to the more harrowing tale of a man being pushed down a well by an angry young Brit enraged by the influx of immigrants. The majority of the subject matter is not so heavy, but there is the odd time in which the severity of the story being told is made even more unsettling by not knowing the degree to which it is fact or fiction.

For a show composed of disparate parts, it is strung together relatively cohesively. There are a few jarring connectors, however the intrigue and suspense in never quite knowing where you’re going next allows you to follow along quite happily. In addition, you always know that if you aren’t connecting with one story, another tale will pull you back in shortly.

Relatively consistent engagement was ensured by the ever-present physical component of the show complimenting and augmenting each story. My favourite was the delivery of Grandma’s homemade shortbread recipe presented in a 1950s style instructive dance with the storyteller “calling” the movement in the background as if it were a line dance.

Intriguing throughout is the choice of costume: each storyteller dons a black wig, with most – but not all – clad in black and white. Although one assumes this is to create some means of uniformity, a few storytellers wear bursts of colour, and even those dressed in monotone get to maintain pieces of individuality in their costume. To me, the result was a message that we are all connected by stories but the stories are unique to each of us, a thought which is strikingly unveiled at the end of the piece.

The Most Incredible Nothing is devised by a group of young people who, over the last two months, have participated in BAC Homegrown programme for 18–25 year olds. They receive the opportunity to learn new skills from BAC artists on a weekly basis, and this showcase of their work reveals a group of talented individuals who obviously have something to say. Their work and their message is certainly something to listen to and the programme is most definitely something to support. Performances are also pay-what-you-can, meaning that you have no excuses not to try and see it!

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

The Most Incredible Nothing runs at Battersea Arts Centre until 8th December 2012.
Box Office: 020 7223 2223 or book online at http://www.bac.org.uk/whats-on/most-incredible-nothing/

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