This Noise’s contribution to The Bunker’s BREAKING OUT programme is the two-person play No One Is Coming To Save You, written by Nathan Ellis. The title may be a bit of a mouthful, but it so effortlessly sums up the play – and modern life itself. And depending on how you look at it, this statement can either be wholly demoralising or an incredible piece of motivation; is your glass half empty or half full?
The young woman’s glass is actually half full (i.e. 50% liquid, 50% space) as she stares through it, ignoring her ringing phone. The young man is incredibly tired, but can’t sleep – he has the TV on but has no idea what he’s watching, when he starts thinking about how he first met his partner and consequently about their baby (both are sleeping in other rooms). In that state between light & dark/dark & light, the man and woman both drift into their imaginations; he is likely affected by the lack of sleep and influenced by whatever’s on the TV, whereas she seems to have a constantly overactive imagination, retreating into it rather than engaging in conversations with other people. Both, in this moment, feel like something terrible is about to happen but are powerless to prevent it.
What the company says in their notes is absolutely true – we do live in a “culture of suspense”. Over the past two years in particular (as I write, I’m thinking back 103 weeks to that vote, the influence of which has spread further than anyone could have anticipated) things do seem to have stepped up a notch. Whilst the majority of us do just get on with things, it’s in the knowledge that there are so many things out of our control that could just snap at any second. We could be led into quite violent daydreams (like the young woman), or more personal & philosophical thoughts (like the young father).
For the most part, the pair operate in independent plots, though they often almost seem to be talking to one another as they act out similar conversations, but each to a different character in their own story. This duologue approach keeps the play flowing, varies the tone, and cleverly intertwines the two stories & two thought processes. It’s utterly compelling, thanks in no small part to the performances of Agatha Elwes and Rudolphe Mdlongwa; as the play veers from hilarious to potentially catastrophic, their movements (directed by Lanre Malaolu) and their delivery keep you practically hypnotised & glued to the action for the whole hour. Elwes and Mdlongwa expertly suck you in, proving the suspense hypothesis as you start to believe something is about to happen.
The set is a striking design from the minds of Khadija Raza and Alice Simonato, with a strip of artificial turf in the middle of the performance space, surrounded by half-filled glasses and with a small TV on mute in the background. The words are the focus here, so the minimalist & slightly abstract set works perfectly – and is enhanced by some wonderful lighting design from Jessica Hung Han Yun. The result is that it leaves some vivid images in your mind well after the final bows.
Not only that, but it’s also almost impossible not to keep thinking over the things you’ve heard. Given that it doesn’t follow a more traditional pattern, you can’t help but keep ticking over during the show; your brain is wired to make connections, and you do slowly build up your own interpretation of the characters’ experiences as it plays through, relating them back to your own life & feelings. And the piece quite literally plays with you; convincing you of one thing one minute, casting doubt on your intuitions the next – it’s a smart hour of theatre.
My verdict? A smart & gripping play that leads you from one suspenseful situation to another, through the thoughts of two independent people – Agatha Elwes’ performance in particular marks her out as one to watch for the future.
No One Is Coming To Save You runs at The Bunker Theatre as part of the BREAKING OUT season until 6 July 2018. Tickets are available online or from the box office, including a limited number of £10 tickets for U30s and £22 double bill passes.