Writer: Katy Warner
Director: Yasmeen Arden
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
Jade and Liam live in a decaying council block in an unnamed town. Druggies gather in the stairwells, and leave their used needles sticking into the bannisters. Gangs roam around the estate collecting shopping trolleys that they throw from the roof of the tower blocks. ‘What does it look like?’ Liam asks when the next lot of trolleys fall from the sky. ‘Like metal rain,’ Jade proclaims.
And it never does stop raining in Katy Warner’s new play Nest, which was shortlisted for Theatre503’s Playwriting Award and premieres in this sixth week of the Vault Festival. With the audience on three sides, designer Holly Pigott’s bedsit is fittingly claustrophobic. It’s ramshackle with furniture overturned, and pills and beer cans litter nearly every surface. The lightning design by Zoe Spurr cleverly reinforces the gloom and the misery here. We can easily imagine the creatures that scuttle away from the grimy bed as Jade sleeps. We can also hear the woman next door engaging in noisy sex, but there’s no need to supply sound effects for the trains that rattle above us on their way to and from Waterloo.
Despite the flat’s dinginess, Jade doesn’t want to leave it, afraid of the outside world. Instead, she builds a nest for herself at home, but this nest is also a prison cell. Pale and jittery she remains in the flat trapped like a clockwork ballerina in her music box. She attempts to persuade Liam to stay too, but he often ventures outside to look for work he can never find. On his return, he always has a gift for Jade, something from the outside world. There’s talk of babies and marriage, but Jade is reluctant to bring life into a world she’d rather leave.
As Jade and Liam, Charlotte Jane Higgins and Arthur McBain are eminently believable as a working class Romeo and Juliet, forgotten by society and the state. Higgins embodies Jade’s paranoia perfectly. It seems that Jade hasn’t left the house in a long time and she flirts with Liam in a manner she must have learned as a schoolgirl. McBain plays Liam wide-eyed and restless, but he’s undereducated and he struggles to do the right thing. The confusion and sorrow we see in McBain’s eyes more than fill the play’s many ellipses.
Nest may be a bleak 60 minutes, but Warner’s writing lets in humour at its edges, and as scenes are not in chronological order there is a sense that Liam and Jade may escape the inevitable, that something may save them from falling like the shopping trolleys. They have each other and perhaps that’s all they need. Strong writing from Warner, and stirring performances from Higgins and McBain ensure that Nest is one of the highlights of this year’s Vault Festival.
Runs until 4 March 2018 | Image: Contributed