[The following contains spoilers.]
It is a well-thumbed recipe for a Nottingham New Theatre Fringe show: the adult-themed drama which is liberally flavoured or sweetened with child’s play. “Only One Wing” (2010) depicted a bedbound ME sufferer who was away with the fairies; whilst in “Chasing Dragons” (2011) a paranoid schizophrenic took refuge in a dungeons-and-dragons style fantasy. “The Hand-Me-Down People” (2012) presented a cast of broken toys who were left “on the shelf” as an apparent metaphor for long-term unemployment. There is none of the sniggering that you might expect from these plays and they are completely lacking in the ghastly relish of, say, Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures. Instead, the nostalgia is essentially idealistic. The innocence of childhood is often the most valuable thing that the characters have left, and it is suspended, like the moon, over various darkened landscapes.
Ben Williamson’s “Queen B,” which is presently showing at the Pleasance Zoo, is part of the same school of drama (although all of the above plays have different writers). Amy (Laura Gallop), a teenager who is grieving after her father’s death, hooks up online with a wandering banker named Dan (Nick Barker). They meet and she gives him a painfully unerotic blowjob, he lets her drive his car, and she lets him smoke one of her joints. As they draw closer, our sense of Dan’s midlife crisis grows ever more ghostly and Amy is returned to the world of her father’s storytelling, with its toy towns and magical bees.
This is, in other words, a play in which the Oedipal accelerator is pressed to the floor and, with travel sickness ensuing, the characters’ folie a deux becomes magnificently nauseating. “Queen B” could serve as a good undergraduate introduction to the theories of Sigmund Freud. It is cold and intensely grim but, unusually for this type of drama, it ends optimistically.
It would be easy for this play to fluff Amy, but crucially, we never feel pity for her. However sad her circumstances, she never loses the brave, unsentimental basis to her character. I was less convinced by Dan, whose sliminess is retrospectively credible during the personable scenes whilst his nastiness lacks oomph. It is hard to judge whether the fault lies with the writing or the acting; Dan is not necessarily unrealistic, it is just that there could be more to him. They come closest to nailing his character in a scene in which he is not present, with a reported encounter with a cat. The scene is so deeply sinister that we might even suspect that Dan is the cat’s familiar. I also like the implication at the back of this play that clichés about wanker-bankers always turn out to be correct in the end.
I am wont to refer to the NNT as if they were the nearest thing that we have to Shakespeare. In truth, I have sometimes known Fringe audiences to feel betrayed by NNT plays which are stylistically glossy but which exhibit an aloof disinterest in plot and character. Yet “Queen B” more than matches the acting and direction with a compelling story. If you like NNT, you will love this play.