In the small, black box theatre, the two actors making up the cast of this show – and making up the show – almost seem dangerously close. Of Nymphs and Men is improvised each night, though with the unfaltering fluidity that Adam Woolley and Grace Cheatle (playing Andrew and Alex respectively) show in their performances, you would never guess it. The two manage to convey the truths of their characters (one of the few things given to them beforehand) even without a script.
Going back and forth, Andrew and Alex each tell their side of the story of their short acquaintance through alternating monologues. Though it takes some time for the story to really find its feet, once things get going Woolley and Cheatle manage to construct a play that grabs the audience’s attention. The improvisers expertly build off what they give to each other and never invalidate or reject what the other has said, even if their character views it in a completely different way. The end product is a nuanced and creepy story about perception and the male ego. Since Alex was initially friendly to Andrew, he’s taken aback when she – in his mind – becomes increasingly colder towards him, convinced she’s playing some kind of mind games with him. Alex, on the other hand, just wants to be left alone. She never meant to pay him any kind of special attention, positive or negative, but she does become progressively more wary of him. It all comes to a head when he shows up at her door, demanding an apology for her behaviour, demanding to see the lodge she’s occupying that he wanted, and demanding to know why he’s been treated this way.
With this recollection of the outburst of violence at the end, we see some of the best acting from both Cheatle and Woolley in the whole piece. Unfortunately, they are still only recollecting the scene. It sounded so interesting, so action-packed, that I actually wanted to see it happening, not be told what happened. The monologues from both sides give us insight into how each character views the incident, but it just made me yearn to see Alex’s initial reaction, to watch Andrew try to justify his use of violence, and to just experience this story unfiltered. Although by that point, maybe I was just tired of monologues. With a slow beginning and lots of talk following, you start to crave some action.
Of Nymphs and Men showcases two excellent improvisers and actors. Though it’s never clear just who each character is talking to (the police? a therapist? a friend? the audience directly?), this show contains a high calibre of story-telling and vast potential.
Of Nymphs and Men played at The Miller until 13 January. For more information, see The Miller website. Photo: Jeremy Wong.