The Lion and the Unicorn Theatre was taken over by Chris Mellor, former Senior Arts Officer LB Camden and Creative Producer at Broadway Barking, last month. Mellor, has quite the fight on his hands with this one. Combining the necessary edge of new work needed to pull punters to this pub theatre, with the fact that it is nestled above a middle-class gastro who may feel more comfortable hitting up the Globe for their monthly theatre quota. Exciting though. Pub theatres are up there with my most favourite of places to frequent. They are a stomping ground; a no holes barred, unsanitised platform for people to trial and error something new, something fresh and something thrilling. So, where does Martin Malcolm’s Nightflyer fit into this spectrum of possibility?
Somewhere in the middle. The subject matter is young and awkwardly recognisable; five tenuous mates are on a night out and one of them passes out, irretrievably. The remaining group of teenagers have to figure out how they are going to deal with it, what they are going to do next and, in doing so, reveal more about who they are as people. The friends are teetering in the limbo between school with its inherent playground tactics, and adulthood. This is a time when social acceptance has gone from being paramount, to being pushed behind the development of individual futures. It feels uncomfortable and flammable in one measure even though the synopsis appears simplistic. In this, it is Malcolm’s writing that rises triumphantly from the piece.
His characters are not so easy to nail. They represent little parts of all of us in their youth and the blurred lines between decisions and mistakes. On the surface, we have the loose and manipulative bully Chloe (Hannah Kelly), the push over Gennette (Anishka Klass), the lad Blowtorch (Harvey Bassett) and the closeted Jamster (Matthew Emeny). But all of them are crammed full of dark dimensions. The bully is on a quest for power that doesn’t exist in the real, but that came so easy to her in the playground. Her actions become more and more menacing and desperate as she grasps at ways to preserve power. Kelly is utterly slap-able and shades her performance admirably. The closeted Jamster changes from the most sympathetic character, in his unrequited love for his passed out pal, to the most dark of them all. Emeny is so quick and sly that you don’t realise what you’re thinking until it’s too late.
The problem is Emeny is about the only think that is quick about it. It lasts an hour, but feels much longer. A high octane sex and a fight scene break things up a bit, but in the meantime there are a lot of gaps: empty moments and cyclical dialogue. Nightflyer is full of potential and is dark, youthful, edgy and the perfect fit for a fringe theatre such as this. It is just missing pace.
Nightflyer is playing The Lion and the Unicorn 12/03/2016. For more information and tickets, see The Lion and Unicorn Theatre website
Photo: JRod Photography