Upon entering the house, there are several elements that stand out sorely. The calm atmosphere generated by a homely yet empty stage, prettily decorated with its vibrant flowers and pristine books and pregnant with imminence and potential, is in conflict with the cohort of creatives gathered at the entrance to the house, conversing casually, tapping away on their phones, pacing, exiting and re-entering, and with the house lights that remain lit until it is finally time for the performance to begin. I would recommend that the creatives pay greater and more sensitive attention to the busyness, informalisation and unprofessional casualness that they are allowing to permeate the performance space in their indiscreet activity, allowing for a distractive, tense and conflicted air. I would also recommend this general house light be turned off, for the localised light over the seating area is sufficient alone.
Secondly, the set design itself (by Sam Went) has an incredibly corporate aesthetic, with the armless reception chair, gold-edged books and flowers, etc. This is in direct conflict with the warm, informal and conversational tone of the text. The globe and glass of water are particularly incongruous, the latter seeming to have no aesthetic purpose but merely a real and utilitarian one, as actor Luis Donegan-Brown (playing Nemo) takes regular sips from it — something against which I cannot recommend strongly enough. This utterly destroys the momentum of the performance and draws attention to the performative, and untrained, actor's body. Practising further calming, focusing and presence techniques will take this need for a comfort glass of water away from the actor.
Sticking with Donegan-Brown, this actor maintains an impressive confidence, energy and vitality throughout. He is most transformative when presenting his various caricatural representations, distinguishing these well with great vocal, facial and corporeal expressivity. He possesses a promising talent and great potential, but there is a notable absence of refined skill.
Notably also an issue to which Sam Moore’s text has given rise — more on this below — Donegan-Brown's performance is one of extremes: extreme physicality and loud vocal delivery, or extreme insularity and introversion. Born through this dichotomy is an absence of nuance, texturisation and, above all, humanisation. We are not presented with a character but merely with a caricature throughout the entire performance, and not a consistent one, either. Donegan-Brown falls short of presenting a particularised, distinct and identifiable character to which one can relate on any level beyond thematically.
Rather early into the performance, Donegan-Brown's movements have become repetitive and indistinct, characterisable by large circular movements of the arms; lowered heads and slightly pursed lips; energetic full-body twists from left to right led by the waist; etc. We also find repetition in tone: solemn, mournful and sorrowful, or jubilant, exhilarated and unrestrained.
Donegan-Brown has a propensity common to the amateur actor: he represents the emotions he would like his audience to feel and those he understands his audience ‘should’, as opposed to inhabiting the mind and body of a character and playing these authentically, letting any emotional invocations in regard to the audience develop naturally of their own accord. Psychological results, sensations of tension and drama, catharses and emotional outpours are not ever produced in an audience by brute force and desperation but by engaging an audience into the authentic and relatable world the play and creatives have carefully produced. One should not perform sadness or suspense but merely the events that produce these emotions [in the actor as well as the audience].
On to the writing. Despite presenting us with one main character and so many other secondary ones, Moore fails to develop any sense of plot or character development. Notedly, our main character, Nemo, starts the play by explaining that he struggled to come to terms with his sexuality and, by the end of the play, we now have a self-actualising Nemo who is happy identifying as merely ‘queer’ or, rather, label-less. However, despite this parallel, there is very little fluidity in the progression from the former mindset to the latter. How Nemo manages to ‘find himself’ in this way is completely uncommunicated, and this is without noting that this transformation bears little weight at all, given that we learn so little about this unnuanced and nondescript character that the fact he should transform at all is notably uninteresting. We know nothing of his history and identity beyond the fact that he is a queer man. Again, a rather monolithic representation; one reliant upon an audience’s pre-existing understanding and experience and not one that informs the audience of a peculiar and unique character identity; a caricature.
We are presented with so many vignettes throughout the course of this play — miniature stories of queer passersby, retellings of passing desires and whims, and recounts of transient, inconsequential interactions — and all are supposedly hugely consequential in developing Nemo's self-acceptance. Yet, there are so many of these short-lived stories united merely by theme alone that the true content of this performance becomes entirely elusive. With our Nemo providing his responses to and opinions on every one of these recounts, the text starts to feel like the unfiltered and unrefined sociopolitical views of the writer, providing us on each occasion with an argument, an example and a conclusion — better resembling an open-ended school paper than a calculated and feeling play.
I should also point out an inconsistency in Nemo’s character, who stresses early on that he never had a ‘coming out’ moment and was too ashamed/scared/vulnerable to do so, only doing so suggestively, “by proxy”. Yet, he complains that his boyfriend wasn’t out like he was. This fluidity in Nemo's character, his caricaturality and sterile progression, combined with the text's superficiality, overly structuredness and inflexibility, mean that this text can only produce a sensationalist reaction, dependent upon an audience's investment in queer politics; considered alone, this play has yet to find its own voice. Nevertheless, a good and energised performance from Donegan-Brown.