nut at The Shed
An intricate metal suspension frame creaks in the silence: a symbolic lull in the quick-witted script of Debbie Tucker Green’s poignant new play, nut. The rust-coloured structure has multiple prongs, used to suspend kitchen furniture as well as shelving for domestic items including tea-towels, nail polish and drinking mugs. A central pivot and attached chair are fixed into the floor and it is here that lead character Elayne is often positioned, her sanity and life seemingly hanging in the balance as the overhead girders precariously swing.
Nadine Marshall is spellbinding as the middle-aged semi-recluse: a self-harming, clinically depressed woman so ensconced in her isolation, she refuses to replace the dead batteries in her now silent doorbell.
Haunting, moving and intensely gripping throughout its 70-minute duration, nut not only explores the dark fringes of depression and self-harm, it also questions and exposes humanity’s common needs: love, family, interaction and control over our own lives. Recurring themes and links appear throughout, unfolding over three scenes: debates about singing, the excessive burning of cigarettes, and the presence or reference to children.
Elayne’s reason for retreating from the world is unclear and clues are frustratingly ambiguous. She initially appears confident and feisty, arguing with friend Aimee (Sophie Stanton) over which of them will have the best funeral. The playful yet acerbic exchange turns sinister when Aimee’s barbed comments systematically shred Elayne’s defence, exposing her as depressed, antisocial and lonely. As other characters enter the fray (the opinionated, bullish Devon – brilliantly portrayed by Anthony Welsh – and an unidentified, possibly ghostly young boy), Elayne’s shield collapses and the first act climaxes with a disturbing twist.
Sharlene Whyte and Gershwyn Eustache Jnr are mesmerising as Elaine’s younger sister and her ex-spouse. Arguing about their daughter, each mercilessly accuses the other of being a terrible parent. Their loneliness and lingering attraction to one another, exposed in silence over a shared cigarette, is gut-wrenchingly sad.
The fears bearing down on Green’s characters tug at the audience with subtle persistence. Thankfully, the play is fast-paced, despite its sombre themes, propelled by a spirited dialogue of humorous, edge-laced bickering.
Sharp, moving, thought-provoking and surprisingly funny, nut is a superb dissection of a difficult and polarising subject, proving unforgettably absorbing from start to finish.
Photos: Stephen Cummiskey
nut is at The Shed at the National Theatre until 5th December 2013. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch a trailer for nut here: