Camden Fringe 2012
Grass Roots Media Nick Hatton Jones and Nellie McQuinn
Tristan Bates Theatre
Anna is an 18 year old girl. Because of various decisions she makes on a sunny Wednesday morning she becomes the victim of a suicide bomb attack on the London tube. This play is the account of what happens to her, and takes us through it from her perspective from before the attack, to after, to right up to her death. More importantly it is about the humanising of that journey and the life that surrounds it. More than anything though this is a play about a girl’s life and her relationship with her mother and explores just how precious these bonds are.
Written and performed by Nellie McQuinn, Listening is an extraordinary journey for an audience, which is peppered with moments where you forget to breathe. This raw performance is one that I would urge you to experience for yourself. This is the kind of work where you forget you are in a theatre, so deeply ingrained is the journey into Anna’s world.
Reviews on Fringe Review require objectivity and normally I write without using I as much as possible, however in this case I have to share how I felt during and after the performance. My guest had the same reaction as me and from what I could see around us the audience were all very moved. So strong was my reaction to this young girl’s story I had to hold back tears throughout the performance for fear of sobbing uncontrollably. Writing this piece on the tube is leaving me with tears welling up again in my eyes. Nellie McQuinn wholly captures Annie so vividly with her excellent command of language. Her explanations as she accounts what happens to Annie are so real I saw them in front of my eyes despite watching a play in a simple black box theatre with no special effects.
She doesn’t need bells and whistles. Through the beats and tempo of the carefully constructed dialogue and the ever so slight changes in movement, costume and simple use of props such as a chair, a hoodie, a hospital bed and her own body, Mcquinn keeps her audience riveted. Credit should also be paid here to director, Veronica Quilligan whose careful hand can be seen guiding the show and McQuinn in harmony, and with great skill. There are very few moments in Listening where I remember I am watching an actor. There is enough light relief from the horrors she describes for the show to be palatable. In fact this is one of it’s real strengths as a piece of writing, the ability to push an audience so far into hell and pull them back out again on a cleverly constructed line of dialogue. The use of references to a familiar book, One Day keeps the show current and very relatable and human.
This play is a revealing raw look at what happens when a bomb explodes at close range. It is highly graphic and manages to make me wince and turn my head away on more than one occasion despite the fact there is just a girl sitting on stage talking. This is not for the faint hearted.
This is violent, visceral, permeating theatre that will haunt your thoughts and plague your conscience long after you leave the theatre and it makes travelling on the tube home a challenge. This is vital theatre as a political performance that is readily accessible. Though political theatre litters the fringe theatre landscape, very few shows push through that boundary between telling a story and having your audience live it with you. Listening does just this. Nellie McQuinn is a writer and performer to watch like a hawk. Don’t miss this and whatever you do remember her name.