Teenage girls deserve epic stories. These girls certainly do. The young cast, many making their professional debuts, look incredibly comfortable on stage. Talented, charismatic, and appropriately self-assured, these girls *did* deserve an epic story. I’m sad to say unfortunately they did not find one in Our Town Needs A Nando’s.
Samantha O’Rourke’s script has a great humorous sensibility which is delivered with expert precision by Nadia Anim, Chloe Hughes, Mali O’Donnell, Kalli Tant and Jada-Li Warrican. Its comedy is its strongest asset. Mocking the clichéd banality of GCSE Drama shows about drugs justly earns raucous laughter from the audience. However, whilst it may be funny, O’Rourke’s text is missing too many key components of story to hold our interest.
The script meanders through bite size scenes that do little more than provide overwrought exposition. There are half-baked dramatic hooks in revelations about romance, sex and family but these narratives fall short as they are disconnected and have little to say. The stories concern themselves with far too many issues to be fully dissected in the time provided, crafting sidewards and thin narratives with no progression. The absence of consequence and change within the text, two crucial elements to story, is felt heavily here. The writing is quite confused at times as O’Rourke flirts with a singular, collective ‘epic’ narrative and an episodic meditation on life as a teenage girl in working-class cities. It’s a shame this formally diverse text failed to gel its contrasting components together. Instead, the unfocused approach provides a notion of unhelpful dissonance as we darted between different narratives that fail to conclude themselves effectively.
Jacob Hughes and Delyth Evans’ design is astute in places. Ameera Conrad and Melissa Ratcliffe’s direction works well in some areas. However, there is much left to be desired with the way this work is stitched together. James Frewer’s music, although pretty, is exhausted in countless blackout transitions where dead space is created on stage so we can establish a passing in time. This is a remarkably novice technique that lacks imagination and ultimately was severing our attention every few minutes. It was exacerbated by the frequent short scenes in the script. Jack Coleman and Ian Davies’ light and sound design, similarly pretty, was at its best when inventive (turning classrooms into kitchens) and at its less impressive when it was on the nose and signalling a bit too much (red for a kiss as waves break, in case the audience hadn’t yet grasped this is a big moment.)
The interrogation of gender politics is strongest in scenes where the girls divulge their thoughts and feelings on walking home from school or how when the girls are made to watch a video on personal safety, the boys get to watch Transformers in another class. Allowing us to listen to the girls’ lived experiences rings the loudest. Patterned direct speech about ‘where are all the women [from history]?’ (a question which actually does very little to serve this particular text – what is the significance of history here?) directed at the audience came across preachy and belittling, but most of all unnecessary for a piece with such a strong socially-conscious sensibility that is already established (and to greater effect) in other scenes.
There are glimmers of excellence and great understanding in this show. The evidence suggests, however, that this is an underdeveloped piece not too dissimilar from work you would see at universities or other dramatic institutions. That’s not to say it’s poor, but perhaps just not quite ready yet.
What is bold and immensely positive programming from the Everyman nearly delivers. I strongly believe further development could turn this piece into a real tour de force and I will still look out for this creative crew and their future endeavours as I feel the best is yet to come. Our Town has its moments of promise, but is ultimately a steady, stumbling start.
Playing until 2nd July, https://www.everymanplayhouse.com/whats-on/our-town-needs-a-nandos
Reviewer: Morgan Evans
Reviewed: 23rd June 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★