Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s play debuted in 2008 at the Ars Nova Theatre (New York), and its success led to many productions across the USA in 2009 and 2010 – only now has it made it across the Atlantic for its UK première. It’s a 90-minute end-of-the-world story full of unexpected twists and quirks, utilising a cast of just three.
Jules and Jo met over the internet, her responding to an ad he placed that promised “intensely significant coupling”. Something isn’t quite right, however, as his room resembles more of a space age bunker and he doesn’t seem at all interested in “coupling” with Jo – and just why is there a uniformed woman sat at the side pulling levers and occasionally banging a drum? Jules is a marine biologist whose recent fish-based observations have led him to predict an impending comet that will wipe out the majority of life on Earth, though he hasn’t managed to get anyone to listen and the comet strike is closing in. Jo is a journalism student who was simply hoping to use this encounter as the subject of her latest assignment – instead she’s being told that she’ll have to help re-populate the planet with Jules…
Nothing is as it seems in Boom, with twists and reveals coming thick and fast throughout the entire play. Perhaps slightly too many, as the interjections from Barbara especially interrupt the show’s flow. Whilst it obviously is fictional (and definitely on the absurd end of the spectrum), Jo’s propensity to faint when danger is imminent is an odd choice; I don’t really see what it adds to the story, and seems to stop working later on anyway. And why wouldn’t Jules gather a few more people (by any means possible) to start re-population? Even with his prediction that governments may have hidden some other people away, the serious amount of inbreeding would be profoundly dangerous for the future of humanity, and surely Jules would have considered this. (I’m a Human Genetics graduate, sorry…)
Barbara’s moments are funny, though I feel like their impact lessens as they get more frequent. Actually, for me this kind of idea would work better on screen rather than stage, as the ‘pause’ idea fits more with that medium – and it would still be able to keep a reveal from Barbara, crucially. On the whole, the play does have its moments but it isn’t hysterically funny, by any means – nor is it particularly profound.
Nicola Blackwell’s set certainly gives the impression that the play is going for, looking very bunker-like and with some welcome, vivid colour. It’s definitely an intriguing prospect when you first enter the auditorium, as you attempt to take in all the surroundings (including the drum and levers), with bonus details revealed a bit later in the play.
The three-strong cast does their best to play up the quirks and comedy of the piece; indeed, their actions and timing are what garner most of the laughs, rather than the script itself. Nicole Sawyerr portrays Jo’s relative normality (at least in her behaviour), which gradually declines into understandable tinges of madness after months of confinement. Will Merrick puts in a convincing turn as geeky Jules, for the most part affable and practical, but suggestive of a slightly sinister edge as he tries to put his plan into action.
Mandi Symonds absolutely stands out as Barbara, showing complete commitment to her character’s zeal for her job, as well as capturing the absurdity of the play. Symonds’ interactions with the audience are definitely the most enjoyable moments, and she is utterly persuasive in them.
My verdict? A bizarre play that has its moments, but doesn’t always fire – goes out more with a whimper than a boom…
Boom runs at Theatre503 until 26 August 2017. Tickets are available online or from the box office.