[Review:] NOF*CKSGIVEN, The Vaults Theatre, London.
Written by Daisy King, directed by Michael Oakley and staged at the Vaults Theatre in London, this performance was, indeed, highly comical. Most relevant to a younger audience but still acquiring laughter from all ages present, this performance was a short but sweet delight.
To see the narrative unfold solely from Stacy’s (Phoebe Thomas) perspective made for a fluid and intimate script. Her character development was fine-tuned and progressive, though there were components that needed to be elucidated further, such as the alluded-to character of Psycho Steve. It is important to find a balance of description and demonstration; whilst the former can oftentimes be too unnatural and distanced, the latter can be somewhat taxing and cryptic. I felt Psycho Steve needed a clearer introduction into / development in the story; it was simple to understand who he was but not exactly why he was a psycho, other than a few related behaviours, or what exact mark he had left on Stacy. I feel that this was crucial to elucidate in order to understand Stacy's relationship with men and sexual desire/behaviour.
The use of technical elements (managed by Amee Smith) in this performance was effective. Lighting (designed by Kevin Millband) was used successfully, focusing the eye in the various sub-locations of the stage, and there was a pleasing balance of spots and washes — oftentimes, spotlights are severely overused; for this performance, this was not the case. The only problem I had with lighting was the blackout at the end of the performance. This was far too short and severely disrupted the finale of the performance: the play suddenly ends, the actors rush in for a bow, and it’s over.
Music was used primarily to situate scenes and rarely for emotional effect, shying appropriately from over-sentimentalisation which would have been erroneous alongside the bold comedy elsewhere in the play. One problem I did have with music, however, was the scene where Stacy dances with Joey (Gabriel Bisset-Smith). Their movements become very minimal very quickly — especially Thomas's — and the song’s duration makes for an awkwardly long sequence of bobbing and swaying. Admittedly, for me, this was comical yet not in a direct but reflective way. Nevertheless, the music should have been edited here or should have simply faded out earlier or in later. I would also like to refer to one more, slight moment in regard to music: the club scene where Stacy believes to have spotted Andy Serkis. Here, Stacy and Stella’s (Witney White) inebriation was rather downplayed; it would have been more entertaining as well to have Stella continue to dance energetically whilst Stacy talks to her, then to have them both dance and converse. This did actually happen after a while but would have been better sooner.
This brings me on to characterisation. Thomas’s characterisation of Stacy was most endearing and, for the most part, realistic. There were some directorial decisions, however, which rather obscured her physicality. In one moment, when lying on the sofa, Thomas pulls her body upwards, rotates and sits up, lies back down, and repeats. The speed, obscure accompanying sounds, and lack of natural movement lead me to believe that this was intended to be a fast-forward to depict a passing of time and a sleepless, restless night. This was far too unclear, however. The movements were not refined enough and needed to be further coached. Ironically, they were also too slow. This was mostly due to the physical strain of rising from a supine position and falling back. Another moment of unneeded and awkward-looking piece of physical movement occurred after Stacy's mentioning of the stabbing pain in her chest. Thomas hits her chest and pulls away repeatedly.
Movements like these need to be carefully calculated and not simply utilised for variation in style or for effect. These types of movements belong to a wider dramatic repertoire and confuse the performance style if employed randomly and sporadically.
It is worth mentioning here that the use of space in itself, however, was particularly efficacious, facilitated fundamentally by the traverse staging which extended past the audience on either side. However, this stretched a little too far perhaps for the parallel seating arrangement; it required some straining and readjustments to see the action at points.
As for White and Bisset-Smith, characterisations were engaging but in some places slightly off. I cannot be sure if this was a directorial, editorial or actor-led decision, but White's sudden change into aggressive, responsible soon-to-be mother, arguing with Stacy as if she had been experiencing difficulties with their friendship for a long while, was particularly incongruous for me. Just before this outburst, White performed rather placidly, and so this change seemed to have come from nowhere. This is perhaps the only place where continuity was skewed for me, as the development into this was lacking. I did not find White to be too convincing as Stella. Her liveliness and energy appeared very artificial. However, in regard to her other characters, White did a wonderful job, capturing different personae effectively. Bisset-Smith's characterisation, on the other hand, depended quite strongly upon vocal ability. I would have liked to see more physical transformation from him, though his voices were distinct, comedic and convincing.