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97

What news of Tychy‘s favourite student theatre company, Nottingham New Theatre?

I’d assumed that I would be the only person in the audience at the NNT’s new show “Open,” but the venue, namely the Pleasance Zoo, turns out to be as full as a butcher’s dog. I’m evidently unfamiliar with the economics of showing plays at eleven in the morning. The entire audience of “Open” is concentrated into the perspective of somebody who is planted in a Nottingham chippy on election night 2015. All through the evening, half of Nottingham come and go, brought to the stage with all of the necessary elasticity and tirelessness by the cast of five. Almost everybody pays for their food with fistfuls of the correct change, which seems to evoke the North even more than the accents.

This actually might not be one chip shop but many. The play is assembled out of real-life interviews which have been apparently fished from numerous chippies. The whole of “Open” is effectively a vox pop. Usually, in BBC news reports, two or three shifty-looking people are surprised in town streets, talking in a rather stunned way about contemporary politics. Here, however, the reporter has gone AWOL, the connection back to the studio has been lost, and no lid is put down again on the rolling interview segments. Because these random strangers represent the people, they are noble. But the cost of this is that their thoughts are not greatly remarkable.

The audience laugh with relief over a good, beautifully played moment by Holly Gatfield, involving a girl’s amazement that chips are made from potatoes, but it is rare that such glimmers of comedy or drama penetrate the oppressive democratic ordinariness. Arnaud Lacey’s portrayal of a homeless man trapped in a Catch-22 suddenly has more than a passing interest to it, which I wished had been there in many of the preceding narratives. Yet I suppose that with the verbatim setup, the blame has to fall squarely on the public rather than on the production. I privately think that in the trendier, more cosmopolitan locale of central Edinburgh, the audience are bound to have a livelier time listening to the conversations in the nearby chippies. This might, of course, be Edinburgh snootiness.

So all of these people moan or marvel, though they mostly moan, about issues such as immigration, Britishness, racism, healthcare and the attitude problems of young people. After each giving their little spiel, they are handed a kebab, or dumplings and gravy, or chips with ketchup, or a burger and chips, and they then pad out contentedly into the night. Moaning mouths are thus stuffed with food and silenced; any political passion is undermined by the assurance that the system keeps on providing. I’m not sure whether the consequent effect is utopian or nihilistic.

“Open” is one of these shows which NNT periodically send to the Fringe that is purely an exhibition of style. The direction and performances are smoothly perfect; the audience enjoy the show. “Open” is only a little unsatisfactory if you know what this slick theatre company, with its virtually corporate ethic of efficiency, can be capable of. Still, as with Britain itself, I know that NNT is not just “living on its reputation” and that it will soon be back with more hope and glory.

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