Theatre review: Ad Nauseam
“Watch us appear, then disappear, emerge, then vanish. Watch us.” We do, as trying as it may be, in Attic Erratic’s latest production of Tom Pitts’ play, whose title conjures, in this case, self-indulgence to a nauseating degree. A glow affords a quick glimpse of the actors, before blackness swallows them up. Another tantalising flicker, and again, they are gone. We begin to feel the weight of the oppressive darkness, on our eyes, then our breasts. But just when we long to scream from asphyxiation, we blink, the lights rise, releasing us from the disconcerting delirium that is the epitome of this memorable performance.
In an arresting monologue, a man waxes lyrical about his looks, about his disgust of the commuting office class, his disdain of admiring womenfolk. As if thrusting his hand into his chest, he pulls out the deepest consciousness of humankind, and boldly challenges anyone who thinks they’re not like him. Hardening himself against a knowing sadness he sees on his girlfriend’s “brow”, the man leaves her behind, plunging into an enticing night of hedonism, of heady promise.
Written in lush poetic style, Pitts’ script is muscular and visceral, and there is a raw physicality about his engagement with the emotional life that energises his lines. Intricately woven with similes and metaphors, his poetry only makes one wish for more time and space in which to savour and chew. But that is surely the point. This is a world where emotions are fervid and the adrenaline rush intense, tilted so we feel it in the character’s perspective.
This is a powerful and dramatically effective evening, made all the more potent by Sarah Walker’s familiar nightclub set that is littered with wine glasses and empty pints. And, of course, her extraordinary lighting design, which can be as stark — in pitch or in light — as it can be nuanced, creating transient puddles of light in a capricious night.
Nick Bendall gives a riveting performance as the central cast. Inhabiting the role as if himself, he is obnoxious yet sensuous, honest yet vile. He is good at taking Pitts’ emotional expressions and wringing the most out of them. If his later contrition does little to win sympathy, it is probably because we know we ourselves hardly deserve it. No mention of Grace Travaglia can be made without observations about her eyes: downcast and melancholic, they draw us into the girlfriend’s depths of wordless solitude. Kate Laverack, too, is remarkable. Her sheer presence as the bewitching other gives the stage a fierce and fiery edge.
Still, it is Pitts’ exquisite soundscape, the veritable fourth character, that completes the tapestry. Interweaving thumping rock with lyrical waltz, his original composition is as adept at manipulating our sensibilities — we feel empathy when we should be repugnant; horror when we should be in solidarity — as solid darkness is, at rattling us.