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Nothing to See Here
Etcetera Theatre
1st August 2014

★★★☆☆

Publicity image for Nothing to See Here

Photography provided by KimBo Theatre

Show me an adult who didn't have an imaginary friend when growing up and I'll show you a fibber. Partially written by Penny Faith and partially devised by the company of KimBo Theatre, Nothing to See Here explores human individuality and imagination where all isn't exactly as it seems.

Initially we meet four very different characters whose lives don't appear to intersect at all. When they talk, they're not talking to each other, they're just strangers who happen to be in the same room. However, quickly links are exposed - it turns out call-centre operator Josie (Bryony Thomas) is friends with stressed-out Rose (Kim Burnett) whose brother is self-help expert Mal (Michael Shon) whose latest client is socially awkward Jon (Jared Rogers). It all comes together.

The actors take on other, more minor parts as well - Shon plays Ronaldo, Rose's tango instructor, Rogers plays Rose's unnamed mystery man. It's all a bit of a deliberately chaotic, jumbled mess in which not everyone is real and it's not immediately clear where the line between reality and fantasy lies.

Jon's best friend (played by Burnett and Thomas in unison) is clearly fictitious and a little bit creepy. But which of the other characters are also invented? What about Jon himself? After all, he's the new client who Mal so desperately wants; could it be that he's just a figment of Mal's imagination? Director Gavin Dent ensures as much as possible is left ambiguous, getting us to keep our minds open to all options.

Given anything can happen in theatre, it's not obvious from the off what is real and what is fantasy. However, every scene, whether imagined or not, gives us a deeper insight into the different characters. In a sense, it's the dreamed up moments which reveal more, because they are born out of desires and fears held in the characters' own minds.

Take Mal, a counsellor, who records podcasts no one really listens to, and who hasn't had a paid client in a long time. Initially, the energetic sequences with adoring audiences seem real - the reason why he hasn't helped Rose with their mother is because he's been too busy recording a show. But the more time we spend with Mal, the more it seems only his desperation and guilt are true, with the rest a construct to escape from his responsibilities. Life coach, coach thyself.

Left to sort things out, Rose is under a great deal of pressure and her confident, self-assured dream man (Rogers) seems too good to exist. Like her brother, she craves some form of validation which she can't get from real life. Rose employs a wheelchair to push around props, a use which initially seems pointless, but actually it's a constant reminder of her constant angst over her ageing mum.

By the end of the piece, we're left reflecting on more innocent times, recollecting hazy feelings as opposed to solid plot. The fact that it feels entirely devised rather than scripted goes a long way to explain the trance-like tone, with competing ideas not entirely fleshed out for a satisfying emotional climax. While a lot of the characters do have problems, the confusion throughout means the work doesn't provoke any strong reactions in relation to the tragedy.

Despite feeling passive and less connected than was perhaps intended, the comedy, did get a reaction. Ultimately, there is something to see here if you're looking for some interesting conceptual exploration presented by a spirited cast.

Nothing to See Here ran from 1st to 3rd August at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe. It then ran from 12th to 16th August at the Arcola Theatre. It next runs from 18th to 19th November 2014 at The Vaults, as part of Mimetic Festival.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)



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