FringeReview UK 2018
One of a series of six new plays produced by the Bunker and associates, No One is Coming to Save You is produced by This Noise, directed by Charlotte Fraser, designed with a simple turf of green interlocking mats in the Bunker’s black space, by Khadija Raza and Alice Simonato Lit by Jessica Han Yu with a hint of night and morning, it’s as unemphatic as Callum Wyles’ ambient sound, Till July 6th.
The Bunker’s season of six new plays lifts off with a contrast in two successive hour-length ones. But lift-off is what we literally get a related by the two unnamed characters in Nathan Ellis’s No One is Coming to Save You. It sounds apocalyptic. One character dreams of this. But nothing like that happens so simply.
It’s produced by This Noise, directed by Charlotte Fraser, designed with a simple turf of green interlocking mats in the Bunker’s black space, by Khadija Raza and Alice Simonato Lit by Jessica Han Yu with a hint of night and morning, it’s as unemphatic as Callum Wyles’ ambience sound, with a fleck of naturalism. We concentrate on the two stockinged protagonists almost stripped to their words.
This frames the nature of Ellis’ intriguing work, essentially a duologue with a final interaction, then reversion to duologue, then a more rapid interaction.
Agatha Elwes’ Young Woman is lifted off in a balloon, just like she might have been when a child: a photo tells her, but as Rudolphe Mdlongwa’s Young father suggests at the work’s beginning, memories play tricks, persuading you of what a photo says you’ve experienced to create a pseudo-recall from it.
Memory and desire filter through this work, respectively the man’s and woman’s. Each character dreams and emerges. Mdlongwa’s partner endures successive nightmares.
If Mdlongwa’s character broods on failures, his wondrous encounter almost out of dream with his future partner is curiously epiphanic, and it’s this kind of thing that marks him out against Elwes’ more nihilistic one. Unlike her mercurially expressive range, Mdlongwa brings a measured storytelling: a serrated edge of a smile, a humour to his narratives.
He relates a strange party where someone’s collapsed in blood and the previous sozzled Mdlongwa’s Young Man has sobered up, his life begins. But there’s a connection with Elwes: blood, and loss.
Mdlongwa’s looking to his sleeping partner, anxious about his daughter. He keeps apologizing for the broken glass crunched under her bloodied feet as a child when a photo smashed. And behind that one another peeps out: where the faded balloon one, revealed a narrative, a memory you convince yourself you had.
But this isn’t his memory; it’s the Young Woman’s experience of finding that photo and continually rubbing her feet as the blood runs – as so often with her hyperbolically – down the walls below. And then there’s the memory of the memory, the balloon itself.
Elwes’ character works as a logger, one who edits filmed footage for other researcher and writers to make rapid summaries for. At each timed insertion, every few seconds, she summarises the action. It sounds dystopic, futuristic and futile.
Elwes’ Young Woman dreams of airliners colliding, the wall a woman builds on a floodplane around her house overwhelmed by water and a polar bear from a melted ice cap bobbing up with exposed incisors to consume her child, then her. Real events like the airliners cruising on with their Hawaiian shirts intact and not fluttering down gently singed at the edges meld with more determined dreams – the house and polar bear.
This is quite apart from fantasising about how she might be friendly with work colleague Lavender whom she sees more than anyone else on the planet but barely speaks to. It allows a rare sliver of social comedy, the straight bat to reflect Elwes’ character’s fantasies. Elwes winningly enacts pauses and delicious idiocies that make the pathos ache.
With such narratives the actors for the most part aren’t communicating directly; they thread several narratives in two different times. Of course there’s a collision.
If Elwes, pulled aloft in a balloon might conceivably be from a dystopic future, though not one far off, Mdlongwa seems contemporary. There’s certainly time-lines and consequences in this first-rate production. You’ll have to guess them for yourself, they’re too delicate to spell out.
It’s an exciting concept certainly, superbly acted, and for the most part works. There was a point of one-note narrative, about fifteen minutes through, when it seemed as if it’d be very hard going. It’s not making strange that snags, but occasional sameiness of exposition, a doggedness of material. Latterly, this isn’t a problem but Ellis might make some of his ellipses more telling, pivotal and rapidly-dispatched.
But do see this along with another of the series – the companion play, Peter Imms’ Section 2 proves ideal. No One is Coming to Save You makes me want to see a lot more of Nathan Ellis.