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Pocket Punks Presents

Nevermind

 

 

 

by Martin Sadofski

 

Directed by Dylan Brown

 

 

Old Red Lion Theatre

 

16 June - 4 July 2009

 

 

 

 

A review by Jafar Iqbal for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

Nevermind is a new play with an eye catching and ambitious concept - a struggling music journalist returns home to try and care for his mother after the sudden death of his father. Rather than helping her come to terms with the situation, his own mental health begins to fracture as he faces up to his father’s death and he begins to have regular visits from Kurt Cobain - the infamous troubled singer and songwriter about whom he is writing a biography. As things spiral out of control for John his girlfriend appears to try and remind him what he has to live for.

Aside from portraying the always contentious Cobain, the play is bold in dealing with depression and the inner workings of a man contemplating suicide. It is clever and interesting with some wonderful moments of interaction between John and Cobain revealing beautifully the warped workings of a depressed mind. It treads the line between strict realism and a dreamlike, internal place. Unfortunately I don’t think the play quite manages to negotiate this line successfully. Despite some good lighting and sound decisions it seems to be a confusion of styles - and I was left feeling unsure what was real and what wasn’t - which may have been the point but was sadly distracting.

I also found the figure of Cobain confusing. First, and this may be my ignorance, but the Cobain described in scenes discussing John’s book seemed wildly different to the one we actually saw. The Cobain character in the play seemed to me more like a flippant, camp teenager at his first mardi gras, than a heroin addict, dead rock star creation of a depressed mind. This was a shame because he has some lovely and poetic moments of dialogue written with a real sensitivity and perception concerning the fictions constructed by mental illness and addiction. The second point of confusion here was Cobain’s function in the play. At the end we are told he is in fact John, or at least a version of his own consciousness, which I think was the only reasonable assumption throughout. He is drawn as a creation of John’s inner mind, presumably with the intention of illuminating what is going on there - or at least of bringing the confusion to light. As mentioned above the character is used brilliantly to this end at some points but often I found his behaviour inconsistent. I must clarify that I don’t mean inconsistent in terms of his quirky changes of focus and interest, which seemed an interesting and plausible part of the character, but inconsistent in terms of his role and his intention towards John. His strange actions and topics of conversation didn’t seem to be moving towards any one end, or indeed to develop in a single coherent way until the final quarter of the play when he really came into his own. As a result the development, or disintegration, of John’s character wasn’t clearly represented and seemed to come out of nowhere - we missed his struggle against that disintegration in the first half because it wasn’t clear that there was anything to fight against. I think what this play really needs is some strong editing - it is very long and this probably exaggerates the lack of focused development. All of the details are there; it is engaging and interesting and often perceptive but the overall shape isn’t quite successful.

On the other hand it must be said that the three central characters are all played with great skill and conviction, which goes some way towards illuminating the things we do not get clearly from the text. Chris Coghill gives everything to his performance of John and is a grimly compelling mixture of aggression and vulnerability. Daniela Denby-Ashe also gives a great performance with real clarity and strength, despite much less stage time. Ruth Evans, as John’s mother, is the highlight of this piece. She finds a great economy in her movements which has the audience hanging on her many repeated actions for little signals of a changing mental state. I did feel that the character’s assertion at the end of the play to have never loved her husband seemed inconsistent with earlier scenes but this is not a major criticism, and the relationship between mother and son - with its familiar motifs and many unsaid truths - is one of the strongest aspects of the play.

Nevermind is really brave. It is a new play, and I think it still needs development, but what must be said is that it is unlike anything else on offer at the moment. It resists attempts at categorisation - which throws up some problems for staging within the impressively detailed naturalistic set, but allows for a brilliant and mixed sound track - and wrestles with unimaginably big themes and dark places. It is undoubtedly imperative to explore theatrically the places of the mind and soul that many people simply cannot imagine if we are to come to a greater understanding of how to help people who feel there is no other option but suicide. It also tries to peel back the layers of misunderstanding around addiction, and heroin in particular. This is a big task for any play. Whatever else has been said Nevermind has had me thinking all weekend, and has certainly posed questions and possibilities from an angle I had not previously considered. I hope that this was at least one of the company’s principle aims, and for that they deserve congratulations.

 

 

Old Red Lion Theatre, 418 St John Street, London EC1V 4


Tuesday 16th June - Saturday 4th July


Times: Tues - Sun at 7.30pm


Tickets: £13/11


Box Office: 020 7837 7816/ book online at
http://www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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