Writer: Charles Entsie
Director: Jade Lewis
Midlife crisis meets the limited opportunities of youth in Charles Entsie’s NSA, a 30-minute play that is part of the Talawa Theatre Season on BBC Sounds. This brief audio drama, set almost entirely in a car, is an exploration of identity, of masculine expectation and the disappointments of life when its outcomes are stacked against you from the start.
Set during the period of recession presided over by Gordon Brown, Man and Boy meet in a deserted Cinewold carpark after midnight and, with nothing to disturb them apart from the foxes, they begin to talk. What brought them to this place and why is only part of the story as they fiercely debate their identity, the judgements that other people make and how much control they really have over their lives.
Entsie creates a richly detailed scenario which, in a very short running time, gives a real flavour of two very different people brought together for an unknown but (most likely) transactional and fleeting purpose. That NSA allows the audience to make assumptions about the exact nature of this encounter is an interesting approach and instead Entsie focuses the discussion on more unexpected subjects that are not automatically suggested by the context of this meeting.
Their status as strangers existing in a confined space with limited movement throughout is a metaphor for the feeling of enclosure and restriction that both fight against in their daily lives. Whether this struggle is a futile act propels the duologue as Entsie uses Man to consider the pressure of social expectations to live a certain way – a steady job, family and respectability – that comes at the cost of individual control, freedom and fulfilment.
Through Boy, NSA explores the cost of aspiration and how this character must also compromise himself in order to move towards the material possessions that symbolise the life he believes he wants. Boy also talks more openly about his difficult family relationships and the isolation this creates.
Much of this discussion is antagonistic using angry exchanges to burrow into the assumptions that both characters make based on how they look. That power shifts between them during the conversation is well achieved, and while the audience largely experiences the performance from Man’s point of view, there is a good balance of narrative with philosophical introspection that creates character depth.
As Man, Don Gilet eases the listener into the story with a long and sympathetic monologue that sets the scene for a character who feels he wasted time and has been too timid to live the exciting life he has always wanted. Gilet exudes a world weariness as Man, a character who has traditional achievements but becomes increasingly frustrated as the realisation that he has never know himself begins to dawn.
Idris Debrand as Boy is full of attitude at the start of NSA, unsure quite what to make of his philosophising customer who talks rather than acts. But Debrand finds layers within his character, a desire to study Economics, to find an unassailable status with a job in the City that will help him to overcome his image as the kid with the cracked phone and muddy tracksuit bottoms, resenting the superiority he senses in others.
Steve Bond’s sound design is particularly vivid, creating the feeling of the car location right down to ‘Diamond; the radio station playing golden oldies and the muffled effect placed over some of the speech as the characters talk through the closed window. NSA is brief and may not offer any real surprises but for a play so focused on the effect of appearances, you get beneath the surface of two characters you never see.
Broadcast at 2.15pm on 14 May 2021 and then available on BBC Sounds