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Nude
The Hope Theatre
5th May 2016

★★★☆☆

Edward Nash, Michelle Fahrenheim and Roshni Rathore as the man, the woman and Fate in Nude

Photography © Helen Murray

A man (Edward Nash) and a woman (Michelle Fahrenheim) meet in a bar and fall head over heels in love. Ever heard that one before? Thought as much. Playwright Paul Hewitt creates a couple for us so generic he doesn't bother to give them names, then sends in Fate (Roshni Rathore) to shake up their Disney-perfect romance and question whether happy endings are possible or just endings. There may be no actual stripping off in Nude, but souls are laid bare as we explore the repetitiveness and inevitability of the human condition.

The story unfolds inside a cube, the edges of which are illuminated by I-Shun Lee's bright white strip lighting, instantly creating some very strong unbroken lines. This design is subtly mirrored in the woman's distinctive jewellery, reinforcing the cyclical theme. The couple are otherwise dressed quite plainly in shades of black and grey, with Fate dressed in white clothing as dazzlingly bright as the skeletal construction surrounding the couple and ramming home the point that she has an ever-present influence on them.

Fate pads around the set, navigating the small gap between its outer boundary and the front row, sometimes stopping to observe the pair, at others commenting on their relationship and inserting herself into their space and their tale. As her meddling increases, we start to view the cube as some sort of crooked dice, with the couple trapped in a game controlled entirely by Fate. Whilst Minglu Wang's design is minimalist enough to prevent claustrophobia in a space this size, it's nonetheless deeply intelligent and very well considered.

Whether Fate intends for her interactions to have such a devastating impact is unclear. There's a wide-eyed innocence as she talks about the never-ending cycle of life, with relationships playing out over and over again. It's possible that she acts out of curiosity rather than malevolence. Or perhaps she's the kind of divine being found in Greek mythology, puppeteering mere mortals for kicks. All we can really know for sure is that she does change the couple's path and is interested, but not not necessarily emotionally attached to the outcome.

Michelle Fahrenheim and Edward Nash as the woman and the man in Nude

Photography © Helen Murray

Hewitt's writing varies in quality, with his rhyme sometimes punchy and melodic and at others, contrived and clumsy. This is never more evident than in Fate's dialogue, with Rathore unable to smooth over the awkwardness of her lines in her delivery. Fahrenheim however is so wonderfully expressive that her countenance frequently overrides any weaknesses in the writing. We warm to her cliched character instantly, finding her anxious and verbose outpouring of banalities endearing and her subsequent heartache moving because unlike Fate, we are invested in her. Whilst Fahrenheim does admittedly have the most sympathetically written part and perhaps thus the easiest job out of the trio, her performance nonetheless is particularly praiseworthy.

The man's character has far less depth to it initially, a consequence of the deliberately fast-paced gallop through his early relationship with the woman. Yet the second half reveals a more complex personality, giving Nash some stronger material to work with. We question the man's motivations at the point and wonder whether he's driven by guilt, remorse, obligation or love - or even a combination of all those emotions. Nash rises ably to the challenge of winning the audience round (not easy, given his character's indiscretions) and eliciting our sympathy.

Although the first half moves quickly, the action towards the end of the play slows down considerably. This is again intentional, however the marked contrast makes the pacing toward the end feel even slower than it is, and the production would benefit from director Ian Nicholson tightening up the action here. There's a fine line between a dramatic pause and an overlong one and it is crossed a few times.

Nude doesn't explore anything groundbreaking, but it will prompt many a post-show discussion about life, love and all things that go with them. An intriguing hour of new writing.

Nude ran from 3rd to 21st May 2016 at the Hope Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Highbury & Islington (Overground, Victoria)



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