What news of Tychy’s favourite student theatre company, Nottingham New Theatre?
They are still the same. Every year their Fringe shows are written and directed by the latest NNT talent, but they always look as if they have been each created by the same person. NNT are a sort of theatrical tribe and through some mysterious means they have decided upon a unique aesthetic, a way of doing things which makes each play unmistakably a NNT play. The distinguishing characteristics of a NNT play are easy to recognise but much harder to define. The nature of their subtle superiority to other Fringe plays is, however, essentially stylistic.
One often gets the impression that NNT could be profound if they were minded to be, but that this would probably bore and inconvenience them. We may sense that we are being merely toyed with by a powerful creative force. As with 2011’s “Beef” and 2012’s “Porphyria,” there is a sort of polished weightlessness to “Paradise” and scenes of striking but ultimately winsome acting. It helps that with “Paradise” NNT have done away with the writer altogether (there is none credited), and apparently assembled this play from improvised workshops. Random decisions have been made and then implemented with the usual efficiency.
We shall punctuate this play with acoustic pop songs. Two pretty, heartfelt singers have been obtained, probably from an open-mic night in Starbucks, and they are perfect. We shall use a bench of no fixed size, which can be pulled in and out like a concertina. Amazingly such an item has been found, or invented, and then placed at the heart of this play.
“Paradise,” which is currently showing on odd days at the Pleasance Zoo, is comprised of cod-verbatim conversations which appear to have been overheard on the Tube, recorded, and then staged. Various characters chat in turn, whilst the commuters around them listen transfixed in eerie masks. There are two aspiring musicians: a cheeky-chappy punk and a snobbish poseur. We meet a quarrelsome couple who are returning from the zoo and a mother who is anxious about a hospital check-up. At first these characters seem to have been selected randomly. We shall have this character and that character, the NNT has decided, and then they have been magically brought to life. Yet their stories eventually converge, for no other reason than that this is a NNT play and it needs a neat, stylish conclusion.
NNT have sent substantial plays to the Fringe in the past (such as Jenni Herzberg’s “The Retreat”), but even these were foremostly concerned with style, reinforcing an aesthetic which at times seems naïve and distinctly cold in tone. Nothing is stripped down and there is no emotional punch. Yet this is a description rather than a criticism: it is simply part of the deal with NNT. In return we get superb comedy and stunning performances.