“A puppet lover who hates rollercoasters” and a woman with “borderline personality disorder” meet for a first date in a New York bar – sounds like the opening line to a joke but is in fact the driving force behind Adam Syzmkowicz play Nerve which premieres in London this week as the inaugural production for Prestige Theatre Company.
Syzmkowicz script is dense but neat and flows easily as Elliot (Benjamin Davies) and Susan (Ambrosine Falck) come to “fall in love” on their first date. They both have many “quirks” (as Susan terms them) and, as their romantic histories unravel before us, we soon get a clearer picture of these two very strange characters. Davies gives a high-energy performance and captures the intensity of obsessive, jealous Elliot with his quick, erratic movements, moods and puppet ex-girlfriend. Falck’s Susan takes a little while to warm up starting primly on the edge of her seat, but as she rips serviettes and oscillates between coldly brisk and achingly insecure, she soon becomes a worthy adversary for Elliot in this odd game of love.
Eduardo Barreto’s direction certainly uses the space well but a little too much and the seemingly constant movement of the play, while underpinning the nervous energy of the protagonists, distracts from the power of the script. When movement was really necessary, in Susan’s dances on the stage, Sally Marie choreography could have been much bolder (especially considering Falck’s dance background) – it seemed more an embarrassing aside than Susan’s own inner voice seeking expression.
Philip Lindley’s set, like Barreto’s direction is also a case of just a little too much. While the heart of his set - a padded bench set around a low table, complete with costers and a bar stool - does well to create the image of a common-to-garden bar; the addition of a juke box and box shelves of liquor on the wall simply clutter.
While this play’s premise may sound like the start to a bad joke it is in fact an exploration into the desperation and isolation of modern day life and this production, with certain tweaks, amends and cuts, is certainly on the right path to being a really visceral theatrical experience.