Review: No One Is Coming to Save You (Pleasance Courtyard)
Nathan Ellis' debut play is a romance for the age of anxiety
Five words flash up on an old TV screen: IT'S GOING TO BE OK. Written in bright, hazard tape yellow, they sit on top of black and white footage of a mushroom cloud; the sort that surges across a desert in an Adam Curtis film. It's pretty clear that everything's not.
Only Nathan Ellis' debut play is deceptive. A romance for the age of anxiety, it constantly toys with catastrophe, only to ultimately reassure. A split-screen story told by two performers – Agatha Elwes and Rudolphe Mdlongwa – it catches the crippling sense of impending doom that comes from urban anomie and, finally, flips it on its head.
Two people – a man and a woman, both in their twenties – seem to be completely stuck; stuck to the point of paralysis. Both sit, in separate rooms, staring into space: him at a television screen spouting German; her, bleeding, at a half empty glass. It's like they're on pause, so gripped by anxiety or ennui or the sheer enormity of everything that they're unable to move.
The text fleshes out the emptiness of their lives and the hopelessness that's taken root in their heads. He markets margarine to empty nesters; a job he neither knows whether he likes or loathes. She works as a television logger, taking down time codes and jotting descriptions of whatever's on screen. If both are outwardly blank, they're boiling inside, fantasising about wrecking petrol stations and blowing things up. They're looking for a way out – any way out.
Staged on a square of plastic green turf, in front of a retro television that rolls images of devastation, Charlotte Fraser's production fosters a neat sense of unease. Elwes and Mdlongwa speak in gentle soothing tones, softly narrating a tale that's always threatening to implode, playing with each other and toying with us. Donning bloodied Hawaiian shirts and sunglasses, they dance a jaunty, old-school routine. A clock ticks down the seconds. Time carries on.
Because, rather than adding to all that anxiety – trotting out another narrative that self-destructs – Ellis swerves to subvert it, averting disaster with a sharp turn to romcom. The title itself is a neat little trick.
Throughout, Ellis picks at why our world's so wary. Beginning with a brief explainer of false memories – our earliest childhood images are usually based on photographs our mind remembers as experiences – No One Is Coming To Save You suggests that we're all addled by our screens. With his square-eyed lovers fixated on their phones and surrounded by ads, Ellis suggests a generation that's absorbed images of apocalypse and accepted them as real.
His question is how to reset the picture – retune ourselves to reality and hope. As the tale ties itself up, Elwes and Mdongwa read out our recommendations; the things we do that make ourselves feel OK. Go swimming. Read novels. Sing loud and dance along. All of them are practical, dopamine-boosting activities; nothing remotely involving a screen. Deep down, it seems, we know what to do, that somebody's out there and it'll all be OK. Won't it?