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Theatre Review Defeatist assumptions mar ideological message

JAN WOOLF is thrilled by the theatre but laments the omission of any reference to collective consciousness in class struggle

The Nobodies
Pleasance Theatre Islington

A NORTHERN town still hurts from the miners’ strike, but three young working-class friends hurt for another reason: the local hospital is to close.  

Aaron’s mum is dying of cancer, Rhea’s job as a trainee nurse is at stake, and ringleader Curtis, a recently homeless graduate, burns with anger and revolutionary zeal.

The moving of hospital services 30 miles away will make lives that are already difficult wretched. But the trio are not too low to find the energy and organising power to resist an inhumane decision that’s in no-one’s interest, except those who will profit from it.  

Add to this mix that the local MP is found dead on the train tracks – a brilliant scene with floor tape, planks of wood and strong lighting dazzling the audience.  

A bold opportunity thus presents itself and a dangerous decision triggers a chain of events. The Nobodies (as they call themselves) gather power, influence and infamy, inspiring more vigilante activists who become a cult of Nobodies.

This terrific new drama from Amy Guyler lays bare a key tenet of neoliberalism, profit at all costs, and never mind the cost for local people.

Joseph Reed, David Angland and Lucy Simpson (a fine moral compass as Rhea) don’t put a foot wrong as they act, dance and mime in a space of about 3 by 10 metres, with lighting and sound from Alan Walden and Mekel Edwards watting up the energy.   

Directors Sam Edmunds and Vikesh Godhwani and designer Becca White conjure up vivid scenes shimmering with wonderful language, timing, and a spellbinding energy. This is fine political theatre, about class rather than identity politics, as the characters delve into the reasons and individuals behind the decision to close the hospital, planning each of their actions accordingly.

And here’s the rub. Action is piecemeal, anarchic and sometimes terrorist. The collective consciousness necessary for revolution isn’t there, just hurting individuals who get together.   

The programme is a cleverly designed “Nobodies Manifesto” but the communist revolutionary shtick is a kind of cosplay; historical, yet misunderstood. Lenin would be turning in his mausoleum.  

What does it take to enact real change? And is this revolutionary politics? These questions are not asked, but rather the assumption made that all radical political action becomes corrupted.  

It’s what the establishment want us to think, and this play perhaps unknowingly falls into this trap. So I present the old Marxist dichotomy of form and content. Four stars for form, but it loses one for content in this reviewer’s book. But the play is neither didactic nor polemical, and as drama and storytelling it’s flawless.

These are people in a situation and this is what they do. The play performed in early previews at Vault Festival 2020 where it won the Common Award, and its regional tour in 2021 won it a Standing Ovation Award nomination from London Pub Theatres. Chalk Line Theatre Company is one to watch.

The Nobodies is at Pleasance theatre, London, until August 28.

 

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